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elderly patient with nurse

What I learned from my year on Capitol Hill: Creating change through health care policy

Published on 10/30/2019

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

During the past six years, I’ve been part of Cerner’s palliative care solution team. Our focus is improving the quality of life for patients and their families by providing relief from the symptoms and stress of serious illness. In this space, I’ve come to realize that human connection is just as important as technology in health care. I’ve also become fascinated with exploring the role technology plays in our lives as we live longer in this dynamic and ever-changing world.

Just like other health care specialties, the palliative care field faces many challenges and complexities. From workforce shortages to standardization of quality measures and more, public policy plays a critical role in addressing these issues. I’ve often asked myself how can I engage, impact and influence the massive policymaking process in my role at a health care IT company? How can I, just one person, create the change I want to see in our health care system?

Those questions led me to search for a fellowship program that could help me grow my policy and leadership skills. What I found was so much more. This past year, I had the unique opportunity to participate in the Health and Aging Policy Fellows (HAPF) program along with fourteen colleagues from across the country. The 12-month program, funded by The John A. Hartford Foundation and West Health, provides an opportunity for health and aging professionals to gain the experience and skills needed to positively contribute to the development and implementation of health policies that affect older Americans. With 10,000 Americans turning 65 each day, one of the greatest challenges is ensuring that our country’s legislation provides the best quality of life for people of all ages.

The fellowship gave me a front row seat to the policymaking process. With Cerner’s support, I participated in the program through a local placement at Rep. Sharice Davids’ (D-KS) office. The congresswoman represents the state’s third congressional district. She also was named to the New Democrat Coalition Healthcare and Technology Task Force in March 2019, and she co-chairs the task force on technology.

I helped define and develop Rep. Davids’ health care stakeholder map, engaging with a variety of businesses and organizations to better understand their legislative priorities and how the representative could support them. I met with payers – federal, private and foundations – large health systems, individual providers, patients, caregivers, mental health facilities, long-term care residencies and advocacy organizations just to name a few. We discussed everything from surprise billing to the opioid epidemic to health care access for the uninsured. We held several district roundtables to promote constituent dialogue and collaboration on priority issues, such as prescription drugs and mental health.

As I reflect on my whirlwind year in the HAPF program, there are three key takeaways that will stay with me:

1. Own your expertise

As the first fellow from a health care IT vendor, and as someone who works with clients every day, I brought a real-world perspective to the challenges and opportunities in health care. For example, I was able to educate my colleagues, representatives from federal agencies and members of congress on Cerner’s vision and success in the population health arena. When you get the opportunity to step back and into a new world, you realize just how much value and experience you bring to the table.

2. Listen and stay open

A large portion of my fellowship was spent meeting with various health care stakeholders and having them educate me on the policies they were passionate about. (This is when I put my expert card in my back pocket!) By remaining open and willing to meet with different perspectives on issues, I walked away with a new appreciation for how complex health care is and the creative problem-solving that’s required. Keep growing your network by constantly listening and learning.

3. Participate in policymaking

Cerner’s approach is to be proactive, not reactive. During my fellowship, I discovered that getting involved early in the policy process is critical. Submit your application to industry committees, respond to proposed rules, join advocacy days with your organizations, meet with local elected officials or consider a run for office. Policy development and implementation are at the root of transformational, systemic change. If you want to see change, be part of creating it.

Our rapidly aging population will affect all of us in one way or another, and based on the many heartfelt conversations I’ve had this year, I believe it already is. We all see firsthand the challenges of staying healthy and receiving care as we, our patients and our family members get older. I’m grateful for the experience and opportunities the HAPF program provided me and for Cerner’s ongoing support in pursuing my passion. I look forward to working together to shape a healthy and productive future for older Americans. I know now that I, just one person, have the power to create the change I want to see in our health care system.

Cerner’s palliative care solution uses advanced intelligence to empower users with data that can impact care when it matters most. Learn more here.