Health Informatics and Smart Health Communities: Podcast with Valerie Rogers

by Gulzar H. Shah, PhD, MStat, MS; Valerie N. Rogers, MPH; and Kristie C. Waterfield, DrPH, MBA

Health Informatics Innovations and Applications highlights ways that health informatics innovations and applications are supporting stakeholders in public health practice and policy to advance their mission of improved population health. The series will also highlight innovations in health care informatics.  

Some innocent questions

Embraced by the euphoria of the city of brotherly love on my first evening of the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, I spotted dozens of homeless people as I walked by the majestic Pennsylvania Convention Center. They were taking shelter right by the shiny glass walls of the magnificent Convention Center, attempting to keep their shivering bodies warm in makeshift sleeping bags. I couldn’t help but feel my upbeat mood and positive worldview slipping into a dark cold graveyard of innocent questions such as “Why this much inequality, or inequity? What kind of city and community find this to be a ‘normal’ state of affairs?” Not a very smart system, I thought, where some people are sleeping on sidewalks while conference attendees are staying in comfortable hotels and enjoying the discourse on eliminating health disparities when right across the glass wall a stark contrast of realities hinted at some of the challenges facing public health practitioners and policymakers. Why such a contrast? Who is responsible? How can it be addressed? I kept asking myself. I dug out the conference program from my conference bag and appreciated this year’s APHA meeting theme– “Creating the Healthiest Nation: For science. For action. For health.”  If it had been my choice, I would have selected a slightly different theme: “Creating Healthiest Communities: For science. For action. For health equity.”

What type of communities can address inequity?

The next morning, I connected with a former colleague from the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), Ms. Valerie N. Rogers, who currently serves as Director of State Government Affairs at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). To me, a bonus of participating in professional conferences is that I get to meet friends and former colleagues who are much smarter than I can imagine becoming. My first question to Valerie was, given that she worked for a leader on health informatics, what can communities do to eliminate disparities and inequities using informatics? I threw in “informatics” because of her association with HIMSS and my interest in an informatics blog/podcast. She reflected on the “smart health communities” model. Did I mention that Valerie is particularly smart in keeping up with informatics innovations? She certainly is. So, I used some of my social capital in requesting Valerie’s time for her to explain what she meant by “smart health communities.”  

This podcast covers the discussion on the role of informatics in smart health communities. I asked Ms. Rogers several questions, including: What are smart health communities? How do you define them, and how is population health promoted in such communities? What is the role of smart communities in leveraging social determinants of health and addressing health inequities? How can smart health communities protect vulnerable populations? Is this phenomenon still at the conceptual stage or are there smart health communities already in place? What is HIMSS doing to support this initiative?

Here are some excerpts from the podcast and some contextual information:

What are smart health communities?

Smart Health Communities (SHCs) are part of the movement toward local and some state governmental systems to modernize and use innovation to support overarching health and well-being goals. SHCs leverage public and private partnerships to address population health and wellness goals, including the elimination of health inequities and health disparities through the application of trusted, secure, innovative technologies; big data; data analytics; and advanced communications.  

The key to Smart Health Communities is the interoperability and integration of information systems and services across core health, human services, and non-health sector systems, including (a) health systems, (ie, healthcare, behavioral health, public health); (b) public safety; (c) environmental health; (d) human and social services; (e) emergency medical services; and (f) transportation.

Addressing health inequities

As we move forward designing smart communities, the key is interoperability and integration of systems such that policymaking entities, public health agencies, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders in the community are able to make better decisions about care delivery, wrap-around services, prevention, public health services, social services, and policies. Generally, Smart Health Communities’ practices should not only pursue the “triple aim goals” of better care, low cost, and better health but also enable timely response to health crises, improve population health outcomes, and pursue quadruple aim goals—by including “health equity and joy in work” as the 4th goal.  Utilization of current technological advances (such as social media) and information systems should support the interconnected health and wellness goals of communities across the globe, thinking even beyond just our domestic issues.

Leveraging communication, transportation, and public affairs data are key aspects of public sector health-related transformation. Transformation of health systems is a goal, by leveraging all of the systems across the spectrum of care, including non-health systems that shape or influence health determinants. For example, transportation in the form of ride-share, or public transportation, is now an extension of continuum of care, and digital communication strategies are increasingly a foundation of socializing these initiatives across citizenship.

Are smart health communities a reality?

Many smart health communities are already in place. Currently, the Smart Health Communities are following the guidelines listed in the Smart Cities and Communities Act of 2019 (H.R.2636) that was introduced in the US House of Representatives on May 9, 2019. Additionally, several states, including Colorado and New Mexico, have developed Health IT Roadmaps to assist in the public health information systems and informatic infrastructures.  Learn more about what HIMSS is doing on this topic here.

HIMSS, a global voice, advisor, and thought leader of health transformation through health information and technology, proactively supports and promotes the smart health communities’ approach. They are encouraging local communities, cities, and state governments to consider including health objectives in their efforts to become Smart.  

Don’t Miss HIMSS 20 Conference

The Smart Health Communities discussion will continue at the HIMSS20 conference. Students and public health professionals are invited to check out the offerings and register to attend! Learn more at

Dr. Gulzar H. Shah

Gulzar H. Shah, PhD, MStat, MS, currently serves as a Professor of Health Policy and Management and the Department Chair, Health Policy and Community Health, at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health (JPHCOPH), Georgia Southern University. He served the JPHCOPH as an Associate Dean for Research before accepting the Department Chair position in 2017. Prior to moving into academia, Dr. Shah spent over 17 years serving in public health practice, first at the Utah State Department of Health, and subsequently at the National Association of Health Data Organizations (NAHDO) and National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). [Full bio.]


Valerie Rogers, MPH

Valerie N. Rodgers, MPH, is Director of State Government Affairs for Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) North America. Previous positions include Senior Director of Integration at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), Chief of Staff for Baltimore City Health Department, and Director of e-Public Health/Informatics at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). 



Dr. Kristie Waterfield

Kristie Waterfield, DrPH, MBA, currently serves as a Visiting Instructor for the Department of Health Policy and Community Health, at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health (JPHCOPH), Georgia Southern University.  She is a recently received her DrPH in Public Health Leadership from JPHCOPH. She also received a bachelor’s degree in Community Health Education and a MBA, Health Services Administration from Georgia Southern University. Kristie has over 15 years of experience in health administration, health care marketing, and management. Currently, her research focuses on public health leadership, health inequities, and public health workforce.

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