The U.S. Embraces HealthGrid

June 18, 2008

Solutions to cutting-edge problems in biomedical science and health care will require the combined efforts of many kinds of experts. Forward-looking leaders from the U.S. public health and computing domains are promoting HealthGrid.US as a forum for collaborative bio-health modeling, simulation and visualization.

HealthGrid.US is affiliated with the Europe-based, international HealthGrid Association.

The University of Chicago hosted HealthGrid 2008 in early June at its downtown Gleacher Center, the first non-European venue for the conference. HealthGrid.US organized the meeting, signaling its readiness to collaborate fully with its European colleagues and begin the process of defining a roadmap.

“We’re discussing strategies for moving forward. We’ve had lots of activity by individual researchers, a bit like a cottage industry,” says Jonathan Silverstein, Associate Director of the Computation Institute at Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago and President of HealthGrid.US. “It’s time to define some collaborative activities and wrap a plan around them.”

Without discounting the technical challenges, the social and policy hurdles dominated the conference agenda. How to strategically plan for the increase in chronic conditions that accompany longer lifespans? How to make the socio-economic case for grid computing and foster acceptance of grids in the health care domain? How to enable productive EU-US working relationships? How to overcome agency compartmentalization, budget constraints, and lack of policies on privacy and security?

The questions came faster than the answers. But participants agreed that a distributed, scalable technology and attendant policies must mature together and they identified several concrete steps to take:

Provide incentives

Develop usable applications with demonstrable benefits and acceptable risks. Pare down the myriad options and levels of IT that leave the health care community bewildered and unconvinced.

Establish standards for interoperability.

HealthGrid must pursue a dialog with the Open Grid Forum to ensure that standards support emerging policies.

Determine allowable risk.

Everyone wants to ensure the privacy of data, but how? Opinions run from "give everybody access, then prosecute the law-breakers" to "we need a no-fault technical solution."

"I'd like to see us exploit grid technology to move to a communication-centric model of healthcare," says Robert Mayes of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. "If we move from data-centric 'records' to a patient-oriented model, and get individuals to articulate their personal health goals, we can shift the locus of control to patients and help them achieve their goals."

Along with the international HealthGrid alliance, HealthGrid.US is helping to establish the distributed information technologies that will support this vision.