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April 27, 2015

AIRA, immunization and public health’s “moon mission”

Last week, I had the honor of keynoting the 2015 meeting for the American Immunization Registry Association. I was gratified to see more than 300 attendees representing 49 states, a striking testament to the growing numbers of dedicated immunization information system (IIS) staff across the country. AIRA is an organization particularly close to my heart, since it traces its roots to All Kids Count, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded initiative that eventually became PHII.

In delivering my keynote, my highest priority was to reinforce to the audience of immunization staff—all working tirelessly behind the scenes in their states’ health offices—the tremendous impact that their work is having.

HLN Consulting's Noam Arzt, PHII's Bill Brand and I following a "fireside chat"-style panel hosted by Bill and Noam

Public health is increasingly emphasizing the need for a “learning health system,” a term coined by the Institute of Medicine to describe a health system that continually evaluates itself and uses a cycle of data, analytics and informed strategies to improve and innovate. IISs are the ultimate model of a learning health system, and they have blazed a trail that gives other public health communities a model to emulate. IIS staff were the early foot soldiers of collaboration and data-driven results; members of the IIS community have had to collaborate to define core functions, identify essential data elements and agree upon standards for these elements, and now other areas of public health are following in their footsteps.

IISs are primed to pave the way for interoperability, and that is a fact that I hope IIS staff can take pride in.

 In my keynote, I also made some recommendations to AIRA attendees as they continue to innovate, improve and build bridges between siloed information systems:

  • Demonstrate leadership.

IIS staff must believe that what they do matters—because it does! They must effectively communicate their missions and goals, and they should take pride in what they do to ensure quality never lags.

  • Continue to engage around information needs.

Providers don’t always understand their information needs as clearly as IISs do. IIS staff must involve their stakeholder communities and make existing information needs clear.

  • Understand the business of health care.

In the wake of the Affordable Care Act, the health care sector is changing. For-profit entities have more of an incentive than ever to pay attention to population health. The public wants and needs public health to be involved, and public health must learn from the successes of IISs and replicate those successes if it wishes to be an effective player in the evolving health care system.

Building an interoperable health data exchange may sound like an impossible goal, but so did going to the moon 50 years ago. I believe we can liberally borrow from the bright men and women of the Apollo program to create our own roadmap to a successful mission. We can leverage the tools that worked for them—a compelling vision, mitigated expectations that include a realistic timeline, a Congress that’s on board, and an easy-to-understand goal—and shoot for the moon, which in our case is a nation defined by healthy communities protected and supported by data-driven systems.

See more photos from AIRA 2015.

Read a PHII Voices blog post about PHII’s training for IIS managers.

David A. Ross, ScD

President/CEO of the Task Force for Global Health, former director of PHII