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2023 IHS Partnership Conference and Tribal Summit Review

by Mitchell Thornbrugh, Chief Information Officer and Director, Office of Information Technology, Indian Health Service

The 2023 IHS Partnership Conference in Atlanta from August 22-24, sponsored by the Office of Information Technology and the Office of Resource Access and Partnerships, focused on unity and collaboration in health care. The event was held alongside the Tribal Summit on August 25. The theme of the 2023 Partnership Conference was "Embracing Change: Building A Stronger Future Together" to emphasize the significance of unity and collaboration in adapting to evolving health care landscapes and ensuring the best possible health care for patients. With nearly 170 sessions covering various topics, this three-day event catered to health care administrators, managers, and front-line staff from federal, tribal, and urban Indian organizations.

Topics included Information Technology, Health IT, Financial Management, Purchased/Referred Care Programs, and more. Attendees could earn educational credits for attending sessions. Among the 170 presentations, 57 centered on OIT and Health Information Management, all aimed at facilitating collaboration for the new enterprise Electronic Health Record solution across Indian Country.

Partnership Conference Spotlights

Organizational Change Management Presentation

The top priority of organizational change management is considering how the change in modernizing health care affects people so its many benefits can be fully experienced. The presentation discussed the upcoming changes within health care IT in Indian Country. To prepare for these changes, OCM emphasizes the importance of effective training and communications. With both in mind, the IHS is dedicated to supporting each facility until they are back at their baseline operability by providing training and resources that alleviate stressors and provide support.

Health Information Management

The Department of Health Information Management is charged with the mission of supporting the highest quality in the management of health information that will benefit both patients and providers. In this session, Bryan K. Burrell, RHIA, LPN, delivered a view into the future for HIM with updates on:

  • The development of a HIM Office at IHS headquarters
  • Policy and development across IHS
  • Guidance for the Division of Health Information Technology Modernization and Operations for the new enterprise EHR solution
  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Coding Training Program
  • Telehealth Clean Up Project status
  • Standard code book maintenance and change requests
  • HIM Program site visits

Office of Information Security HHS Health and Human Services Cybersecurity Program Overview

The Health and Human Services Cybersecurity Program ensures compliance with federal mandates and legislation. The program plays an important role in protecting sensitive data within HHS. This session gave an overview of current initiatives and answered questions regarding:

  • Zero Trust
  • M-23-02 – Migrating to Post Quantum Cryptography
  • Embracing Rapid Cybersecurity Advancements to Defend Health Networks
  • Best Practices for Health Care Cybersecurity Governance in the AI Age
  • Artificial Intelligence

Four Directions Warehouse Presentation

This session provided the Four Directions Warehouse which will serve as a consolidated cloud-hosted clinical data repository. The 4DW will serve as a long-term data archive storage solution, and the current data stored in the Resource and Patient Management System will be incorporated within the chosen enterprise EHR.

Health IT Modernization Roundtable with Mitchell Thornbrugh, Dr. Howard Hays, Andrea Scott, and Jeanette Kompkoff

Presenters hosted this session to provide insight into the changes to come within the Health IT Modernization Program as well as updates in the current “Buy and Build” phase. The session ended with an open floor for questions and feedback from the audience.

Tribal Summit and Caucus Spotlights

The Tribal Summit provided an opportunity for IHS to share updates and answers to questions on a variety of topics regarding the Health IT Modernization Program. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Loretta Christensen delivered a keynote presentation on the benefits of modernization across health care in Indian Country. She recalled the struggles facilities encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the inability to enable necessary tracking and reporting within the Resource and Patient Management System. This was a noteworthy example of why modernization within health care IT in Indian Country is necessary not only for clinicians, but also for patients.

Following the keynote, the Caucus provided an opportunity for tribal and urban Indian organization partners to ask questions and receive updates from the Division of Health IT Modernization and Operations leadership. As chief information officer, I was able to provide the audience with updates on the Health IT Modernization Program. The IHS is getting close to making the final selection of the vendor to provide the EHR solution and expects to begin deployment of the new solution at its first pilot site beginning in 2025.

A central principle of the IHS Health IT Modernization Program is to build and operate the new EHR solution with our partners, not for them. As the IHS approaches the finalization of a contract award for the new enterprise EHR solution, it is important to know which sites may wish to participate with the IHS in shared enterprise solution planning efforts. The IHS invites interested tribal and urban Indian organization sites that are considering the enterprise EHR as a viable option to complete the non-binding Statement of Interest to indicate their interest in participating in planning efforts.

IHS also desires a partnership in the journey to implement the new enterprise EHR solution using governance frameworks that promote collaboration. To do so, IHS established three modernization focus groups in the areas of interoperability, data analytics, and health IT implementation, where we encourage tribal and urban Indian organization subject matter experts to engage in modernization strategy. Focus groups are open to all interested participants, not only those who choose to implement the IHS chosen enterprise EHR solution. Please email to join one or more of our focus groups to further collaborate.

Overall, the 2023 Partnership Conference and Tribal Summit was a resounding success, thanks to the dedication, passion, and collaboration of all those who participated. As we move forward, let us continue to embrace change, work together, and build a strong future that ensures the best possible care for our patients for generations to come.

Mitchell Thornbrugh, Chief Information Officer and Director, Office of Information Technology, Indian Health Service

Mitchell Thornbrugh, an enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, is the chief information officer and director of the Office of Information Technology for the Indian Health Service. His responsibilities include advising senior IHS leadership on all aspects of information resource management and technology and ensures IHS compliance with information technology laws, regulations, and policies.