The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance took the first steps to create a center of excellence for secure health care data sharing during a panel discussion and brainstorming session last week.

Panelists deliberated about the potential for a center that would store and transmit patient information across providers, as well as integrate the military’s existing information technology model. The group of health information technology officers, digital health company leaders, cyber security professionals and health industry executives met at Colorado Technical University. They started to lay the foundation for a center of excellence, how to achieve the informal designation and potential partners with both the Department of Defense and the Colorado Regional Health Information Organization.

CORHIO is a nonprofit public-private partnership with a mission to improve health care quality for Coloradans “through cost effective and secure implementation of health information exchange,” according to its website.

The group allows doctors to exchange patient information and merge health care plans.

For example, according to panelist James Calanni, Community Health Partnership’s Health Information Exchange project director, every time a patient visits a doctor, the visit “would go into the CORHIO database [and] be parsed and married together with other health records from other providers for that patient into one longitudinal, complete health record, that could then be readjusted back into the primary care physician’s office.”

CHP is a public/private partnership providing mental health services to Medicaid-eligible patients in southern and western Colorado.

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Discussions, while nascent, could provide a foundation for a potential center of excellence. While not an official designation, centers of excellence tend to include organizations collaborating on research, infrastructure and services via a shared workspace, often with the goal of attaining fast, above-average results.

There are three local organizations involved in a “demonstration project,” Calanni said — Colorado Springs Health Partners, Peak Vista Community Health Centers and AspenPointe.

Thanks to its health care assets — hospitals, specialists, the military — the Springs is a good location to attract national players in health information technology, said Calanni.

“We actually have a playground that’s pretty cool,” he said. “Colorado Springs is an island of health care. It has great hospital facilities, specialists, etc.”

While the efforts to incorporate CORHIO were tangible, much of the early discussion surrounding a center of excellence was more abstract — why it’s needed, problems a center could address and what the center might look like.

The city doesn’t have far to go, some say, since health care groups are already collaborating.

“I don’t think the community really knows how far ahead of the curve we are,” said Debbie Chandler, CEO of CSHP. Chandler said the foundation of collaboration already exists, and referred to the Community Health Partnership, in its 20th year of operation, as an example.

Further coordination efforts are underway.

“It’s really an incredible group. It’s just a matter of getting focused and agreeing on what we’re going to do,” she said.

While the collaboration piece is already in place, Chandler says patients need to know more about the benefits behind sharing health care information.

Building trust between providers and patients is vital when it comes to information sharing, she said, pointing to Anthem’s technology breach this year.

“Patients say, ‘Whoa, don’t put my information in that database.’ They’re really leery to be part of this if we can’t give them that trust,” she said.

That’s where the military could take the lead, she said. Because it has an existing shared network, the military could secure civilian data, but with local oversight.

“CHP is, to me, the best organization to lead this [on the civilian side],” she said.

According to Mike Ware, CEO of the El Paso County Medical Society, the Department of Defense’s health information exchange, which can cross branch boundaries within the armed forces, is far more refined than civilian capabilities.

“What can we learn from them in this partnership?” Ware said.

But the goal is to involve more than just the health-care community in the negotiations and planning for the center of excellence. Startup groups and economic development leaders are also needed.

James Rigger, conformance testing programs manager with Storage Networking Industry Association, said Peak Startup would be a partnership worth pursuing.

Rigger said it is also important to create, from an entrepreneurial standpoint, a local environment that will “stimulate out-of-the-box thinking and new ideas … You need people who will keep asking, ‘What if? What if? What if?’”

James Dodd, CEO of Loop Communications, agreed that a physical location for entrepreneurs is a must.

“Like-minded entrepreneurs need a place where they can share ideas … and that’s huge. This center of excellence is an incredible opportunity for our city… We just have to work together. I’m positively looking forward to what the future can bring.”