Slideshow: IG in the Mission Control Seat

Representation from a variety of departments is the best way to ensure an IG program’s successful liftoff.

IG in the Mission Control Seat

Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The space program has come a long way since the United States put a man on the moon, as evidenced by its most recent achievement: sending the New Horizons probe on a flyby of demoted-planet Pluto. These milestones would be impossible without the collective efforts of the NASA mission control team—a group consisting of specialists that are experts in all the facets related to a given space mission. Mission control is not unlike an information governance (IG) council in healthcare, the formation of which is an almost universally recommended strategy for getting IG off the ground and into the atmosphere. Both missions—interplanetary travel and IG—require a team of professionals.

Flight Director/Chief Information Governance Officer

NASA Mission Control Relaxed Moment

NASA missions typically have a flight director who is responsible for shuttle missions and payload operations, and leads the flight control team. This person weighs the advice of the other flight controllers before making mission-related decisions. The IG world equivalent should be, according to IG experts at the Sedona Conference and the Information Governance Initiative (IGI), an individual serving as chief information governance officer (CIGO). As Barclay Blair, IGI’s founder and executive director, explains, IG “is a new discipline that of course builds on the disciplines it coordinates, but one that also represents a major evolutionary shift in how organizations understand, use, and, well, govern, their information.” Therefore, a CIGO should not “be a rebranding of senior records management roles, but someone who has the requisite breadth of management, technology, and legal expertise.” HIM directors, with their broad understanding of legal, financial, clinical, risk, and compliance, are an ideal fit for this role.

Data Processing System (Engineer)/IT representative

Scientist at Work on Control Panel

In their mission control capacity, the data processing system engineer (DPS) monitors the data processing system of computers, which makes these individuals indispensable members of NASA’s team. The obvious comparison is that of an IT representative on an IG council. Mark Diamond, president and CEO of the IG consulting firm Contoural, says IT is a key player because IT “owns” many of the systems that need governing and developing. In the HIM world, IT helps design and install electronic health records (EHRs), and manages security systems to protect information stored in databases.

Public Affairs Officer/Legal and Compliance Officer

NASA Mission Control Celebrates

If a space mission is successful or unsuccessful, the person who has to communicate this to the public, via journalists, is the public affairs officer. When the news is good—the Mars rover landed!—their job is easy. But if a space station resupply shuttle crashes, their job becomes to protect NASA’s reputation in the face of tragedy. Similarly, legal and compliance professionals must be part of the IG team to protect a provider or healthcare organization from litigation. Lawyers are there to help an IG team develop retention and disposition policies, make sure business associate agreements are in order, and to ensure HIPAA compliance. With meaningful use requirements, ICD-10, and HIPAA compliance ever changing, it would be unwise not to have the counsel of a good legal or compliance officer.

Spacecraft Communicator/Director of HIM

Astronaut Moonwalk

Manned space missions have a communications link between flight/mission control and the astronauts aboard the craft. This is the person who communicates the message “Houston, we have a problem” to the relevant members of mission control. They have to be able to translate highly technical instructions to and from astronauts and the people on the ground. HIM directors who sit on IG councils do the same. They’re on the council to provide their much-needed health information and data management perspective to the council, and then communicate the council’s vision back to the departments they oversee. Without them, nobody would see the big picture.

Lift off!

Moonwalk Footprint

Implementing IG and exploring space are similar because embracing both means embracing the unknown—and being willing to make mistakes along the way. Information governance in healthcare still has a long way to go, compared to IG in other industries. Every small step of the process will feel like a first step (for mankind and for providers), but the benefits can be transcendent. HIM professionals must not be afraid or daunted by the prospect, and like the first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong, they should not be afraid to plant their flag firmly in this new territory.

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