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Reflections on Three Years with the Office of the CTO

Ed Simcox announces his departure from HHS and reflects on his time as the HHS Chief Technology Officer and Acting Chief Information Officer.

After proudly serving as Chief Technology Officer at HHS, I have accepted an offer to move back to the private sector. This is a difficult decision for me. With that said, I'm excited about the next chapter and look forward to bringing my experiences to a growing, exciting part of the health sector.

Serving this department and the American people has been an honor and privilege for which I am immensely grateful. The CTO team that leads and supports our efforts is nothing short of incredible. I am also humbled to have worked with the leaders and civil servants across HHS. Their dedication to mission is unrivaled in federal government.

In weighing the decision to leave, I had the comfort of knowing that so much has been accomplished over the past three years in the Office of the CTO. The initiatives we lead combined with the top-notch technology consulting we provide throughout HHS have worked to usher in a culture that believes that using data, innovation, and cutting-edge technology is critical to informing policy and achieving HHS’s priorities.

Here are a few of the team’s accomplishments from the past year:

The Data Insights Initiative is driving HHS-wide evidence-based decision-making through the better use of data. Resounding support from across HHS has made this initiative possible. In support of the great data work already going on across the department, the project stands to enable data-driven, innovative approaches to the nation’s healthcare challenges while simultaneously caring for data privacy and security. With this initiative, data will be accessible to our strategic planners and policy experts in one place, and data sets will be easily analyzed and visualized, no matter where they come from. In time, we believe it can be a test case for even more ambitious ways to use data and work with partners outside the walls of HHS.

In support of the Data Insights Initiative, our Data Science CoLab training program is upskilling employees across HHS to make them fluent in the language of data. The team has seen tremendous demand for data science training and we are busy expanding the curriculum.

Ed Simcox at Kidney Week 2019KidneyX is an outstanding example of how public-private partnerships can accelerate  innovation. In the United States, kidney diseases affect more than 37 million Americans and over 700,000 have kidney failure, requiring dialysis or transplantation. Medicare spends $35 Billion on care for people with kidney failure annually, yet we have seen very little transformative innovation in the way we care for these people.

Now, KidneyX is catalyzing innovation for the first time in decades.  Through a series of prize competitions, KidneyX is highlighting areas of unmet patient need.  KidneyX has already awarded almost $2M in prizes to catalyze innovative product development, having received more than 350 promising applications across three prize submission cycles. President Trump recently highlighted KidneyX in his Executive Order on Advancing American Kidney Health, calling for it to develop the first artificial kidney and other innovative products. As part of the President’s strategy to transform kidney health, KidneyX is poised to make a difference in the lives of millions of Americans.

The Lyme Innovation Initiative promotes the use of innovation and partnerships to address the  serious and growing threat of tick-borne disease in the United States. The team is taking next steps based on the roundtable where we convened scientists, clinicians and patients to understand what’s important to all stakeholders. We also led technology sprints where industry and non-government teams harnessed the power of crowdsourcing and emerging technologies — using federal data and AI — to address Lyme and tick-borne diseases. This resulted in eleven technology solutions that are already helping participants combat Lyme disease in real ways.

Our Indian Health Service Health IT Modernization project developed a legacy assessment, analysis of alternatives and IT roadmap in consultation with IHS to modernize its Health IT program. The team applied human-centered design to make sure that the next generation of health IT at IHS directly cares for the needs of patients and clinicians in this unique healthcare setting. Partially as a result of our efforts, President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget includes an investment of $125 million for improving and modernizing health IT at IHS to achieve improved healthcare delivery and health outcomes for 2.6 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives in the United States.

In partnership with CDC, the Consumer Access to Immunization Records initiative makes it easier for consumers to access online immunization records. This initiative already has 60,000 accounts, helping patients receive vaccinations in a timely manner. A new app for consumers to access their records is in the testing phase and coming soon.

HHS Fall Innovation DayLast but not least, the Ignite Accelerator continues to give HHS staff the opportunity to experiment, test, and validate solutions to key departmental challenges using design thinking and human-centered design. In 2019 we guided the 8th round of the program, upskilling over 60 HHS employees in 21st Century problem-solving methods and empowering them to accelerate 19 innovative ideas to mission critical problems across the Department. 

The above work was led by a very small team with help from staff across HHS. I personally thank every member of the team, both past and present, for their dedication. Going forward, I leave the office in very capable hands. I am confident that the great work the team is doing will continue to support HHS’s mission to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans.

On a final note, I had the honor of also serving as HHS’s Acting Chief Information Officer. In this role, I experienced first-hand the magnitude and complexity of federal IT in the largest civilian agency in the world. I was again humbled by the CIO staff’s dedication and loyalty to mission. The American people can rest assured that the civil servants caring for IT and cybersecurity at HHS are doing a great job enabling and protecting HHS. I thank the OCIO staff for their dedication and support.

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Health Data