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Chopra Touts Crowd-Sourced Secure Email for Health Records

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Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra, Photo: Steve Jurvetson

Federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra said government’s role for the future of the Internet is to convene and facilitate technological innovation in partnership with the private sector.

At a Brookings Institute forum on Internet policy, Chopra made his far-reaching pronouncements in response to a single, loaded question: What is the role of government for the future Internet?

Examples are often the easiest way to explain, and Chopra did just that.

Last year, he said, at a public forum about healthcare exchanges and electronic health records, a Northern Virginia physician came to him with a problem: a lack of adequate technology prevented him from sending his patient’s electronic health records to her new doctor in Arizona when she moved.

“The physicians both shared the exact same software platform, so the sense was, at a minimum, they should be able to facilitate this type of exchange, but he raised some eyebrows,” Chopra said. “You can’t really use the public Internet for sharing medical records because of concerns of patient privacy and so forth.”

But eventually, after getting consent from the patient, the two doctors emailed the file across the Internet, the doctor said, which elicited gasps from the forum audience, Chopra said, for obvious security reasons.

“Because,” Chopra said, “the concern was the system, as wonderful as it is, is just not technically designed for that level of secure communication, at least in the context of our healthcare system.”

The answer was public engagement.

“We challenged the private sector to engage,” Chopra said. Eighty organizations working under the banner of The Direct Project worked on developing a project that would allow medical records to be electronically sent, directly and securely.

One year later, he said, more than 25,000 lines of code had been written and the first commercial product to do just that was announced.

Chopra acknowledges the government relied on the private sector, but in the role of “government as convener,” that allowed it to engage “in a way that advanced or unlocked some of the potential . . . (of) our Internet infrastructure, and you will see that play time and time again.”

Chopra has been trumpeting the gospel of civic engagement lately.

Last week, marking the one-year anniversary of the Open Government Directive, he said 2011 would be the year of civic engagement.

And, true to his word, the Office of Management and Budget later that week unveiled ExpertNet, a new engagement platform to target expert audiences to help formulate new policies.

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