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Investment in digital infrastructure and workforce are key to improving fed’s digital strategy, informatics professionals note

BETHESDA, MD – The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) sent a set of recommendations to the federal government last week, commenting on its Draft Federal Data Strategy. The nation’s health informatics professionals largely supported the Strategy, identifying ways it could help federal agencies improve data sharing and data availability for research and other supplemental purposes.

In June, the federal government issued a blueprint for all executive branch agencies to have a “coordinated and integrated approach to using data to deliver on mission, serve the public, and steward resources while respecting privacy and confidentiality.” The Draft Federal Data Strategy includes four central tenants, focused on the quadruple purpose of (1) managing government data as a strategic asset; (2) enabling stakeholders to effectively and efficiently access and use data assets; (3) improving the use of data assets for decision-making and accountability; and (4) facilitating the use of data assets by external stakeholders for commercial ventures, innovation, or for other public uses.

Last Friday, AMIA submitted comments on the Strategy, supporting its development and offering a series of key recommendations.

“We note that this strategy builds on a long pedigree of federal efforts to manage federal data as an asset, stretching across decades of policy,” AMIA comments stated. “Among more than a dozen official actions of federal legislation, regulation, and directives are the convictions often expressed by and for the American public that their data should be secure, private, and appropriately leveraged for public benefit. These same actions dictate that administrative data produced by the federal government should be accessible, discoverable, and usable by the public.”

To advance these convictions, AMIA recommended that the Draft Federal Data Strategy articulate how federal agencies should:

  1. Collect or create information in a way that supports supplemental uses of downstream information processing and dissemination;
  2. Extend the concept of “data as an asset” to grantees and others who receive federal funding so that data generated as part of grants and contracts are more readily findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable;
  3. Develop a framework for agencies to understand, manage, and compare their data assets through a portfolio approach; and
  4. Continue efforts to modernize internal IT investments, especially around large-scale computing and shared environments.

In addition, AMIA encouraged the Draft Strategy to include work on publishing and harmonizing data dictionaries so both the public and other federal agencies can interpret the data correctly and consistently.

“AMIA recommends that this Strategy initiate a collaborative, inter-agency consensus process to ensure that data elements used by disparate agencies, but which refer to the same concept, are named the same everywhere,” the comments noted.

In addition, the Draft Federal Data Strategy sought “Use Cases” that could help federal agencies better understand how to manage government data as a strategic asset. AMIA’s comments highlighted one such project in the state of Indiana, being coordinated through the Regenstrief Institute. As part of Indiana University’s Grand Challenge Initiative, the “Responding to the Addiction Crisis,” includes the Indiana Addiction Data Commons, or IADC. The IADC seeks to provide a more holistic characterization of the opioid crisis in Indiana by giving researchers and health care professionals access to information beyond what can be found in the electronic health record. While this project is in its early stages, AMIA said it could provide useful information on governance, infrastructure, and data standards that could be useful for the Draft Federal Data Strategy.

“As the federal government assesses its current strategy to manage its data assets, AMIA and the informatics community can be a source for lessons learned and best practice,” said AMIA President and CEO Douglas B. Fridsma, MD, PhD, FACP, FACMI.