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Chief Data Officer: Data Is Key for Delivering Holistic Services to Residents

John Ohanian, CDO and director of the Center for Data Insights and Innovation, discusses laying the groundwork to bring high-quality data together for services across the state.

The chief data officer for the California Health and Human Services Agency (CalHHS), John Ohanian, says a fairly new “startup” within CalHHS is laying the groundwork for bringing high-quality data together from across state government to better serve Californians.

John Ohanian cropped.jpg
John Ohanian
The Center for Data Insights and Innovation Office (CDII), of which Ohanian is director, is tasked with transforming data and creating the Data Exchange Framework.

In a recent Techwire Member Briefing, Ohanian explained the mission and the goals of CDII.

“The concept is a startup within CalHHS,” Ohanian said, noting that he was chosen for the role by Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of Health and Human Services.

Building dashboards that bring agency information together is one goal, as residents touch multiple departments and organizations at all government levels. Ohanian mentioned examples such as California Department of Education programming that affects youths, as well as various programs for the aging.

One goal is “putting the person back into person-centered delivery” of services, which can be done only when bringing that person’s data together at the point of care, Ohanian said. “The second is to be more strategic in our decision-making.

“My real focus is on people. What’s the difference that we can make with bringing data together, not just bring data together for data’s sake.”

Various health providers collect data but need to share with each other. Some providers have data in lots of systems, and there are exchanges to share that data, he said. However, many providers still don’t use electronic records or aren’t connected to exchanges. Connecting providers, residents and data is one of CDII’s goals so care can be better coordinated.

“It doesn’t do a doctor any good to prescribe insulin to a diabetic individual if they’re homeless and they don’t have a refrigerator to keep the medicine cool,” he said. “I use a very simplistic example, but it speaks to a lot of folks.”

Ohanian highlighted an all-hazards dashboard that will be a tool for leadership.

“I think what’s really exciting about this: We call it a dashboard, but really it is a collaborative tool for leadership,” he said. “Rather than sending out emails and reports, all the data is in one spot, so that when we’re looking at how many facilities might be impacted or where they are, we are all looking at the same tool.”

An equity dashboard set for fall release will assist providers in filling gaps and understanding how to better serve citizens.

“At the state, we pride ourselves with focusing on equity first to make sure that all Californians are served and that we look at the disparities in equity and equitable delivery of programs,” Ohanian said. High-quality data can help with those missing pieces — and there’s an abundance of data, with CHHS’ 30,000 employees responsible for about $200 billion in programming.

Expect the Data Exchange Framework to be established in June with iterative guidance from the office. Ohanian said it will be implemented with care while providers are trained; he wants those collecting data to understand and feel comfortable with the process of gathering high-quality information.

Ohanian said CDII is always open to opportunities for vendors to propose ideas and solutions for data management.

“We don’t need to invest in technology,” he said. “It’s not that we’re choosing not to just because we don’t want to, but actually the need is not there because the technology already exists and these provider communities are out there, and a lot of these HIE (health information exchange) hubs have tech, have good practices in place, and really, we’re just trying to onboard others on to it.”

He also noted that CDII is always looking for new tech talent, especially “data providers, data leaders,” including those working in industry who may be contemplating a move to government.

Before joining CDII in 2020 and being named chief last fall, Ohanian was an executive officer for San Diego and has worked in the private and nonprofit sectors. He holds a business degree from the University of San Diego and a certificate from Harvard in Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management.

The virtual briefing for Techwire members was led by Alan Cox, executive vice president of Techwire parent company e.Republic, and was recorded. It can be viewed here.
Rae D. DeShong is a Dallas-based staff writer and has written for The Dallas Morning News and worked as a community college administrator.