News Feature | October 4, 2016

HHS CTO Says Technology Should Be A "Trojan Horse For Change"

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

VA Changes

Susannah Fox pushes to expand the definition of technology and advocates its advance.

In a Wall Street Journal interview, HHS chief technology officer Susannah Fox said technology should serve as a “Trojan horse for change” and innovation, adding, “We say technology, but we mean innovation. We talk about interoperability, but we mean culture change in favor of openness.”

As chief technology officer, Fox is responsible for helping HHS leadership harness the power of data, technology, and innovation to improve the health and welfare of the nation. Fox assumed the role in June 2015, and has said she wants to expand the definition of technology “beyond code and data” to advanced manufacturing and craftsmanship, as the “frontier of healthcare innovation recognizes the opportunity of advanced manufacturing and a return to craft, as well as the greater involvement of patients.” Additionally, she advocates greater openness around information and clinical trial results to advance new technologies. 

In a Washington Post interview, Fox explained, “The chief technology officer is in a lot of ways also the chief innovation officer and the chief ambassador to the outside tech community.” That means recruiting data scientists and engaging in efforts to work with those other forces.

One way technology can help serve healthcare is by allowing people to learn from each other, as an increasing numbers of individuals are turning to the Internet to find information or connect with others suffering from similar medical conditions. According to Fox, “One in four U.S. adults said they have turned to others who have the same health condition. The deceptively simple reason: the Internet gives us access not only to information, but also to each other. That is crucial to unlocking the potential of health and technology, from clinical-trial design to hospital-discharge planning.”

But the downside is individuals 65 and older, as well as those living with disability, are far less likely to use the Internet for health information. Fox said we need to find ways to include these stakeholders in the conversation, telling The Washington Post, “Coming into this role, I shared Secretary Sylvia Burwell’s interest in creating a way for engaged and empowered individuals to make the best decisions for their health care. We want to identify barriers that prevent people from getting information that could help them make those decisions.

“What happened with the democratization of access to information and data is going to be mirrored in the democratization of design and manufacturing tools. And it can’t happen quickly enough.” And it is the individuals closest to the problem that are best equipped to help resolve it, according to Fox, who acknowledged the important role patients play in driving innovation in healthcare.