At HHS, the objective is to unify IT
- By Mary Mosquera
- Sep 16, 2003
Melissa Chapman, Systems Caregiver
As the CIO of the Health and Human Services Department since June of last year, Melissa Chapman has focused on linking common health processes among other government agencies and across her own department and developing standards to build a federal health architecture.
Before taking her current post, Chapman was acting CIO for HHS' Food and Drug Administration, where she helped advance secretary Tommy Thompson's OneHHS initiative. She urged her employees to devise a plan to reach the program's goals, and FDA got an early start on consolidating IT.
Chapman held several senior management positions over 11 years at FDA, inclduing stints at the Center for Drug Evaluation Research, Center for Biologic Evaluation and Research, and in the Office of the Commissioner. She spearheaded development of FDA's e-commerce systems for electronic review of drug applications.
She has a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
GCN staff writer Mary Mosquera interviewed Chapman at her Washington office. GCN: What major IT initiatives is the Health and Human Services Department undertaking?
CHAPMAN: We've redesigned our Web site, HHS.gov. Now we're trying to bring that look and feel and intuitive sense to our internal Web site, HHSNet. We are revamping the intranet to be based on functional topic areas rather than on organization, to become a tool for our employees and to improve the way we disseminate information internally.
Content includes human resources information, policy, memos, department announcements and documentation about HHS initiatives.
For example, just because you weren't at a council meeting, you can still benefit from the materials generated there by getting them through the intranet.
We're also looking at how to unify the network across HHS. It can open up opportunities to access tools, data information and people over the network across all operating divisions.GCN: What's the department's next major IT initiative?
CHAPMAN: We are pursuing the federal health architecture. Every department is building policies and procedures and a repository for their enterprise architectures that feed into the Federal Enterprise Architecture.
We realized very quickly that while we may be the largest department associated with health care and services, there are important related functions in the Veterans Affairs, Defense and Agriculture departments, and at the Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.
We think there is opportunity to leverage the health-related areas of an architecture together.
For example, the Food and Drug Administration, an HHS agency, plays a role in food safety in the United States, and clearly USDA does as well. Yet there is no significant integration between those two organizations in how we use software and IT.GCN: At what stage is the architecture?
CHAPMAN: We're working with the Office of Management and Budget and the President's Management Council for E-Government, so a lot of this is in the conceptual stage.
We're inviting as many people as we can to the table, both from government and the private sector, to consider what a federal health architecture would mean. We want to know how to get six-month and 12-month accomplishments out there to measure either some benefit in decreasing cost or increasing the availability of information to people so they can do their jobs.
Right now I am working with other departments to develop a complete business case for the federal health architecture. [Since this interview, the President's Management Council authorized HHS to move forward on the federal health architecture to determine common business functions among EPA and the Agriculture, Defense, Energy and Homeland Security departments.]GCN: Will the federal health architecture give government, industry and consumers access to health information?
CHAPMAN: The architecture is an enabler, but it's not the end-result tool itself. The architecture is a way to view and analyze information about business functions, data standards, existing software solutions and, most importantly, performance metrics.
With the architecture you can document and describe business processes, data used to conduct those business process, software tools that are used to enable those processes, the infrastructure on which those tools sit and the performance metrics you hope to hit by using tools to enable that process.
Through analysis we can find opportunities to build systems that will create more access for the public and unify communications across public-health-care providers. For example, if you were going to do a significant upgrade to your infrastructure, you could quickly trace what tools and lines of business would be impacted.GCN: What is the Consolidated Health Informatics initiative?
CHAPMAN: The Consolidated Health Informatics project looks at existing health data standards and determines those that are most prevalent, or are considered best of breed, so that the CHI working group can collectively recommend a list of data standards for various health functions.GCN: And these would be standard across all agencies and health industries?
CHAPMAN: HHS secretary Tommy Thompson has urged the federal government to adopt these recommendations as standards. The CHI fits into the federal health architecture as the mechanism for doing the data standards portion.GCN: How will having standards advance the federal health architecture?
CHAPMAN: Data standards play an important role in the development of any systems that come after the establishment of the architecture.
If one organization wants to build software or certain business functions and they follow those data standards, it will be easier for another organization to exchange data with them because they would likely use the same standards. It's very expensive for people to exchange data if it's not in the same format or doesn't follow the same standard.
So federal use of these standards will decrease the cost and time for developing and then exchanging the information.GCN: What has the redesign of the HHS Web site improved?
CHAPMAN: The new HHS site has clearly benefited the public by being more intuitive to use. We see that in statistics we collect for Web use.
We're looking at about a 90 percent success rate in terms of the general public being able to find the information that they are looking for on the site. Before the redesign, the success rate was about 40 percent.
Personally, I never went to the HHS.gov site before the redesign. Being an employee, I'm very familiar with the Web sites of all our operating divisions. But now I go through HHS.gov first, because it works that much better.GCN: How did you get everyone on board for the redesign?
CHAPMAN: The technical solutions were not the greatest challenge of the Web redesign. Rather, it was building trust with the content owners and demonstrating credibility for what a redesign would offer the public.
When I talk about the content owners, I mean the program personnel, physicians, statisticians, National Institutes of Health and the secretary himself. They wanted to be assured that this would indeed significantly improve how we disseminate information.
One key was having a team that included people from across HHS. This was not a top-down-driven solution. The secretary set a vision. And then a team of folks from every office pursued that vision. The redesign went up a year ago.