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HIMSS Native American Health IT Symposium Fulfills Promise of Continued Tribal Community Advocacy

HIMSS hosted a Native American Health IT Symposium at the 2024 HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition in March, delving into tribal public health needs; respecting tribal data sovereignty; tribal data modernization plans by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Oracle Health & General Dynamics Information Technology electronic health record implementation strategies; and advocacy opportunities.

The symposium was headlined by an Indian Health Service (IHS) keynote on its current health IT modernization initiative to overhaul a 40-year-old EHR software system currently in use by IHS-funded facilities. IHS representatives Deputy CIO Andrea Scott, Division of Health IT Modernization Director Jeanette Kompkoff and Chief Information Security Officer Benjamin Koshy provided in-depth updates on their new central repository for clinical data and how the organization is preparing for to convert to the commercial EHR go-lives expected in late 2025.

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, who is one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress, sent a video message to symposium attendees, sharing her excitement about HIMSS’s leadership in bringing together federal and tribal partners to improve Native health through policy and health innovation.

A larger goal of the HIMSS Native American and Indigenous People’s Community — which was launched in 2023 — is to address global issues, and the 2024 symposium had the distinct honor of including Canada Health Infoway to provide updates on its efforts to connect with First Nations and Indigenous Peoples across the Canadian provinces.

Following the launch of the new community last year, HIMSS hosted an in-person roundtable at the 2023 HIMSS Global Conference in Chicago, Illinois, to gauge interest in the community and to discuss tribal healthcare opportunities and challenges. The roundtable was standing room only, proving there was not only interest but a clear need for space for tribes to convene, collaborate and learn.

Prior to these extremely successful activities, the largest Native American health IT event hosted by HIMSS took place about a decade ago. Robert Coffey, a Comanche Nation citizen and longstanding HIMSS Oklahoma Chapter tribal liaison, and Tom Kauley, Kiowa Nation citizen and National Indian Health Board (NIHB) Regional Extension Center coordinator, worked together to bring Native health IT issues to the forefront of the HIMSS 2013 Conference & Exhibition.

Kauley had a vision for NIHB and HIMSS to work together to meet tribal health IT needs for Native American and Indigenous populations. But in September 2013, Kauley suddenly passed away.

At the time, HIMSS Senior Vice President and Head of Government Relations Tom Leary told Coffey he would not forget about him and Kauley and their efforts. Leary made a promise to embark on a journey for HIMSS again to lead a tribally focused event and to be an advocate for tribal communities.

Ten years later, Coffey resurfaced the idea for HIMSS and NIHB to work together on tribal health IT issues. He worked with the HIMSS Government Relations team to revive the Native American Health IT Symposium for the 2024 HIMSS Global Conference. Kauley’s original vision came full circle.

During the 2024 symposium, Coffey paid homage to his late friend Kauley with personal stories and reflections. Coffey also honored Leary and HIMSS Senior Government Relations Specialist Evan Dunne on stage in a blanketing ceremony — a Native American tradition to symbolize unity, celebration and partnership — to thank them for honoring Kauley and bringing the vision to life.

Leary made Coffey a promise 10 years ago, and the 2024 Native American Health IT Symposium fulfilled that promise. HIMSS has also strengthened its partnership with NIHB, working with in close collaboration, and NIHB gave an overview at the symposium of the current legislative landscape of Indian Country in the United States. NIHB was pivotal in the planning process to help promote the symposium to its members.

HIMSS is proud to honor Native American and Indigenous peoples with continued advocacy for tribal communities, working collaboratively to ensure tribes are never forgotten.

Anyone interested in tribal healthcare and health information and technology is invited to join the HIMSS Native American and Indigenous Peoples Community. The community is committed to educating and equipping tribal leaders and tribal health professionals with culturally informed resources designed to help improve health outcomes and enhance access and opportunities within Native American and Indigenous people’s healthcare. Gather with fellow visionaries and health equity advocates to improve the delivery of care and transform tribal health. 

HIMSS members are also welcome to join the HIMSS Global Health Equity Network, an initiative focused on advancing diversity and inclusion to ensure health and wellness for everyone, everywhere.