AI, Machine Learning, Automation: Key Themes for Fed Healthcare

Chris Wiedemann

By Chris Wiedemann, Consultant

At the recent AFCEA Bethesda Health IT Summit, government and industry had a chance to catch each other up on the latest developments in a rapidly-evolving space. As usual, the event was information rich, covering everything from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s agile development-driven programs to address the opioid crisis to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ internal enterprise cloud strategy.

But the underlying theme was that the agencies engaged in big healthcare challenges (VA, Health and Human Services, Defense Health Agency, etc.) are starting to work faster and smarter by using tools like agile development and purchasing, artificial intelligence, automation and machine learning, and they need industry partners who can do that with them.

Of course, any mention of agility, automation, machine learning or artificial intelligence should excite COTS manufacturers. Although the government speakers mostly avoided calling out products by name, the role of off-the-shelf technology was a common thread throughout the event. There are a variety of drivers behind the move to COTS and away from customization, ranging from the availability of sophisticated data analytics tools to the need to hedge against institutional knowledge loss as more of the federal workforce approaches retirement.

Regardless of the reason, it’s clear that the federal health IT space is moving to a buy-before-build approach. Leaders in the space are also subject to some of the same market imperatives we see elsewhere – almost every panel or keynote mentioned cloud and the myriad ways that it already acts as a mission enabler, a trend that should accelerate in the coming years.

The focus on agility, quick implementations and buying ready-made solutions extends to acquisition – both formally, as in the IAAI vehicle that Nextgov profiles here, and more informally, as in the emphasis placed by the VA on a standardized, enterprise-wide approach to new applications and pilots. That should be especially exciting to COTS vendors, since the health IT space has historically lacked centralization and been somewhat slow-moving. A move towards enterprise standardization creates some big chances to win business and replicate success across an agency.

Sales leaders building a plan of attack in the healthcare space should look to the areas where OCIOs are driving acquisition, especially if you have a record of success in health IT, to really drive standardization on your product.

In summary, this year’s Health IT Summit drove home the sense that the health-related challenges facing agencies are too large and too important to wait on – a message that you can and should incorporate into your own as you work with customers in this space. They need tools to help use data, automate processes and scale operations with a limited workforce. COTS companies and sales leaders should take note.


Learn more about key drivers and trends shaping government IT purchasing:

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