Q&A: New NeHC director sees unique opportunity

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Kate Berry is stepping into the leadership role at National eHealth Collaborative (NeHC) at a time when coalition building is as essential to health IT as interoperability. Berry recently told CMIO of her plans to emphasize the “Collaborative” in NeHC’s name, building on the organization’s role in bringing together diverse stakeholders and perhaps expanding its educational offerings, among other things.

What do you envision as NeHC’s next big steps?
National eHealth Collaborative has a lot in place that we can build on: A fabulous board of directors and a great team that has been doing some strategic planning over the past year. We have a close relationship with the ONC and [are] playing an integral role around the NHIN [Nationwide Health Information Network] in terms of operational and logistical support for that program. We have that closeness and deep knowledge around NHIN that we can build on, [as well as] multi-stakeholder education around all things health IT and health information exchange.

All of those things are a really important foundation. We need to continue to leverage our unique position as a public-private partnership and nonprofit that can play a role as a neutral convener, disseminator of information, and distiller of challenges that all the different stakeholders in the industry are experiencing. And then, in turn, try to organize programs that accelerate deployment and implementation of health IT in a way that helps to improve healthcare and the health of the population.

What is the most exciting aspect of stepping into this role?
I come from long background in healthcare and have done a number of different things in for-profit and nonprofit organizations, including strategic and operational work across many relevant aspects of the industry. This is a unique opportunity in the sense that there’s not very many public-private partnerships, [or] neutral entities with this kind of board that has this type of close relationship with the ONC, where so much important work to advance health IT is happening.

We are in a rapidly changing and fairly chaotic time in the healthcare industry, especially as relates to health IT. Joining NeHC is an opportunity to bring to bear a whole lot of experience that I have at a time where there’s such tremendous need to focus on using health IT as a tool or enabler to transform healthcare financing and delivery.

The American Health Information Community was created under the previous administration and evolved over time. I’ve worked with a lot of the NeHC board members since my earliest days at Surescripts, and I know these people are talented, committed, and indeed, visionary. We have a wonderful opportunity to leverage this unique platform–NeHC–to continue to have a broad impact on HIT and improving our healthcare system.

Do you think the current political climate will jeopardize health IT initiatives such as NHIN?
I’m optimistic and excited about the potential [for NHIN]. The good news is, while things may be a little bit more up in the air since the mid-term elections, reform is here to stay in one form or another. It seems there’s little controversy around health IT as an enabler to help support transformation and improvement of healthcare. There’s certainly less controversy around that than around some other elements of reform. So I’m cautiously optimistic that the political environment won’t be terribly detrimental to health IT.

That said, I’m not sure that anything is 100 percent safe in an environment when there’s significant pressure to cut spending.

What should observers watch for at NeHC under your leadership?
From my experience in the field, and knowing what providers, payors and other stakeholders are struggling with, there’s a valuable role for the NeHC to play in terms of having our finger on the pulse of the pain points and being able to organize, galvanize and catalyze resources and programs to help address those pain points in the special way that a public-private partnership can do.

Don’t expect dramatic changes. NeHC has been around for a couple of years and we have some wonderful work that we can build on. I hope to increase the visibility of the organization, bring in additional resources to build on what we have, and create some additional programs that can have an impact.

Can you provide examples?
NeHC has been working on behalf of a coalition of interested organizations to seek funding to address important and complex consent-related issues. [The coalition] views NeHC as playing valuable role as a convener, facilitator, and expert resource on this topic to understand requirements across states and to develop and share best practices.

There seems to be growing interest among many stakeholders in engaging with consumers and educating them on the value of health IT and empowering them to engage with HIT to improve their own health. We could play a role by convening interested stakeholders and trying to create coordinated messaging to help people understand the value of HIT from their perspectives.

We’ve been tracking attendance at our NHIN University [online programs, and] the feedback is quite impressive. We can expand on that success. Perhaps following additional needs assessment, NeHC could move toward regional workshops and education programs for key stakeholders and all those working day-to-day to move the health IT ball forward.