The exchange of ideas is vital to advancing healthcare around the globe. Opening dialogues, establishing relationships and partnerships, and sharing expertise help move research forward and promote discovery. This is an environment in which we at Regenstrief Institute excel.

Professional meetings offer exceptional and important opportunities to initiate formal and informal, long-term and brief connections. Whether it’s inspiration for a research question spurred by keynote addresses, panel discussions, research presentations, poster sessions and vendor exhibits or informal conversations in an elevator or over coffee that reveal common interests, unexpected synergies, new perspectives and interesting views, these interactions are invaluable and crucial to the evolution of both research and collaboration.

The 17th World Congress of Medical and Health Informatics, known as MedInfo, is an outstanding example of the vital role professional scientific conferences play. MedInfo is the foremost international conference for the science and practice of biomedical informatics. Scientists, physicians, academicians, students, entrepreneurs, decision-makers and other stakeholders from around the world gather to share their research and discuss leveraging information to improve human health. The gathering is in a different location every two years and hosted by the national medical and informatics association of that country.

This year’s MedInfo was held in Lyon, France’s third largest city, from Aug. 25-30. Let me first take a brief moment to say that it was a wonderful city in which to host the meeting, especially for someone who enjoys great food and a beautiful setting.

But while the architecture and food were memorable, the most important aspect was the potential it provided to interact with colleagues we know and potential collaborators we enjoyed getting to know.

MedInfo is truly a global conference. Participants included some of the leading informatics innovators from all over the world, with varied expertise, experiences, capabilities and healthcare challenges they are working to address. Indeed, it’s this wide range of perspectives that adds intrinsic value to this gathering. We all can learn from each other, whether the goals are improved development and use of Health IT or other solutions to leveraging data, information and knowledge to advance care, health and biomedical science. It’s also an opportunity to see how the United States in general, and Regenstrief specifically, stack up to other parts of the world.

MedInfo’s theme, “Health and Wellbeing: E-Networks for All,” served as an umbrella for multiple areas of interest. These included the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare; effective use of information and communications technology in the delivery of health services, including disease prevention and health promotion; and technology transfer and community services in low and medium resource environments.

In spite of a record number of papers vying for presentation at the meeting, Regenstrief Institute was impressively represented. Joining me in participating and networking were Umberto Tachinardi, M.D.; Eneida Mendonca, M.D., PhD; Shaun Grannis, M.D.; Theresa Cullen, M.D.; Brian Dixon, PhD; Dan Vreeman, DPT and Suranga Kasthurirathne, PhD; as well as pre-doctoral public and population health fellow Heather Taylor, MPH, and Regenstrief summer scholar Gregory Dexter.

Our contributions were widely varied.

Dr. Tachinardi chaired, and I was a presenter and panelist for, an animated discussion on the role of chief research information officers (CRIOs) in advancing the use of health-related data for translational research, precision medicine and learning health systems. Joining us was our colleague from France, Dr. Anita Burgun. Roles like this are growing in importance, and the panel engendered a great discussion from our international colleagues.

The ground-breaking work on accurate patient identity matching from Dr. Grannis and co-author Dr. Kasthurirathne was also presented at the conference. Linking medical records to the correct patient is a major challenge, but accuracy is essential to prevent medical errors and provide the best care. Regenstrief is a leader in the effort to improve matching rates.

Health information exchange has the potential to improve the way we track acute and chronic medical conditions, something that is vital to the health of people across the globe. Dr. Cullen served as a panelist discussing challenges and opportunities in electronic care planning for chronic disease. A paper co-authored by Dr. Cullen and Regenstrief Institute research scientist Burke Mamlin, M.D., on HIV surveillance via national health information exchanges was presented.

Dr. Dixon led an impressive panel of international collaborators and, as part of that, he presented a pilot study he conducted on the implementation of FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) standards to facilitate electronic disease reporting, advancing public health to benefit entire populations.

Better information from a large number of sources can help dentists provide better care. Ms. Taylor presented a study evaluating a dental diagnostic terminology subset, which she co-wrote with Regenstrief research scientist Thankam Thyvalikakath, DMD, PhD.

There is a wealth of data, but how do we use it effectively? Dr. Dixon and Dr. Kasthurirathne delivered a tutorial on public health, population health and global health informatics. It was an excellent opportunity for representatives from different countries to share their perspectives and learn from one another.

Dr. Vreeman gave a tutorial on LOINC. LOINC, developed and operated by the institute and used in 175 countries, is the medical lingua franca which enables the movement of data, and among other benefits, is crucial to the operation of electronic health information exchanges.

Mr. Dexter, a rising senior at Purdue University, where he is triple majoring in computer science, math and statistics, gave an impressive presentation on machine learning approaches to facilitate notifiable disease reporting that drew praise for him and his institute mentors Dr. Grannis, Dr. Dixon and Dr. Kasthurirathne.

A most impressive showing, but presentations and panels weren’t the only tasks accomplished. During those 12-hour days, we engaged in enlightening conversations with data scientists and experts from around the world. Dozens of current and potential collaborators attended a special reception hosted by Regenstrief at which we had the pleasure of not only networking with colleagues from around the globe, but also celebrated and toasted to the 50th anniversary of the Regenstrief Institute.

Less than a month after the meeting, our efforts are already bearing fruit. For example, a Canadian researcher is traveling to the institute from Montreal in the second half of September to discuss potential collaboration with the Center for Biomedical Informatics.

MedInfo marked the beginning of new collaborations and the renewal of old relationships. But this is not something that only happens every two years. Regenstrief is constantly engaged in dialogue and idea sharing, whether at professional conferences, presentations or any number of other activities. We firmly believe in the power of relationships, discussions and collaboration and will continue to foster an environment where these connections can grow and prosper.

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