Community Partner: Civitas Provides Advocacy and Education for Health IT Sector

May 18th, 2022 | Published Under Community Partners by Bob Mook

Newly merged organization works with Contexture, others on data-led collaboratives

The promise of health information technology is predicated on connecting healthcare providers and stakeholders so they can use data to make informed decisions with patients -- and on a larger scale, the communities they serve.

As a national collaborative of member organizations in the health IT and health improvement sector, Civitas Networks for Health strives to support health information exchange (HIE), health data and multi-stakeholder, cross-sector approaches to improve health.

Civitas came together last year when the Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement (NRHI) and the Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative (SHIEC) officially joined forces to form the largest network of its kind. It now serves over 160 member organizations representing 95% of the U.S. population. Civitas added 11 new member organizations in the first quarter of 2022 alone.

Many of Civitas members are health information exchanges (HIEs) like Contexture as well as regional health improvement collaboratives (RHICs), quality improvement organizations, all-payer claims data bases and other solutions partners committed to promoting interoperability, data exchange and improved workflows throughout the healthcare system.

“We stand for local leaders that are working in their communities to change health and healthcare,” said Civitas Senior Director of Network Engagement Jolie Ritzo, MPH. “And the way we do that is by offering opportunities for increased connection and collaboration.”

How Civitas Works
Civitas offers learning forums, workgroups, councils and conferences where members can come together to exchange best practices. The organization aims to create meaningful ways for its members to come together on issues where they can create greater influence.

For example, in the realm of government relations and advocacy, Ritzo notes that Civitas held over 40 meetings with congressional leaders during the past year.

“We were able to influence the PREVENT Pandemics Act and get recognition for HIEs in the draft,” she said.

Introduced in March, of 2022, PREVENT (an acronym for Preparing for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats) is designed to prepare for and respond to existing and new pandemic threats by speeding up research and the delivery of medical supplies.

“This is just one example of how Civitas is educating and advocating with federal leaders and national partners on the expertise of its members,” Ritzo added. “We are always looking for opportunities to highlight the work of our members -- showing the breadth of knowledge and the diversity of skills that Civitas members bring to bear.”

Since Civitas was formed in August of 2021, Ritzo and Civitas CEO Lisa Bari, MB, MPH, have presented on the national stage for numerous conferences including the HIMSS conference in Orlando, Fla. and the Health IT Connect Conference in Baltimore. On Aug. 21-24, Civitas will co-host its annual conference with DirectTrust in San Antonio, Texas, with the theme of Better Together: Health Data Collaboratives and Information Exchange to Advance Health Equity.

“Civitas members are doing critical work to advance the journey to health equity,” Ritzo said. “When we think about value-based care or we think about whole-person care and addressing the social determinants of health, we know that it requires more comprehensive data sets – interoperability, access, privacy, security, accuracy and analysis. It also requires trust and collaboration.”

Contexture’s Executive Vice President, Morgan Honea, serves on the workgroup responsible for the annual conference proposal selection process. Honea also leads Civitas’ business strategy workgroup for executive leaders. Contexture General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Privacy and Compliance Annie Harrington serves as co-chair of Civitas’ Government Relations and Advocacy Council. Contexture Director of Marketing and Communications Jennifer Mensch co-chairs the Civitas Marketing and Communications Workgroup. Contexture’s CEO Melissa Kotrys serves as Civitas’ board chair.

Like Civitas, Contexture is an organization that recently consolidated. Contexture came together when Arizona-based HIE Health Current joined Colorado-based CORHIO to form one of the largest HIEs in the West.

“As a membership organization, we need strong leaders who are willing to act on behalf of not just our organization but to represent the national network and to be a voice within the national network,” Ritzo said. “As one of the larger national organizations in the HIE sector, we need and appreciate Contexture’s perspective and leadership.”

Earlier this year, Civitas’ Lisa Bari co-authored an op-ed in Modern Healthcare with Kotrys and Honea on how HIEs are advancing the healthcare industry towards interoperability.

What’s Ahead for Civitas/HIE?
Starting in early 2020, the pandemic shed light on the need for real-time access to comprehensive trusted health data – giving the sector and Civitas an opportunity to demonstrate their value proposition to healthcare stakeholders and policymakers.

“We are at a pivotal moment for building upon the existing infrastructure in place through local, regional and state health data collaborative organizations,” Bari said. “Civitas is committed to supporting our new and existing members with the best practices and connections to regional and national partners and policymakers. We have opportunities to elevate our profile in terms of our members in the social determinants and interoperability space.”

Learn more about Civitas Networks for Health on their website.