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While I may occasionally substitute the word training for learning, my strong preference when bringing professionals together to gain new insights is to focus on the learning that is taking place. Training too often connotes the visual of people gathered in a classroom being told from an “expert” how to tackle a particular issue or topic, while learning takes on a more comprehensive approach and includes sharing experiences among those assembled.

I broach this matter today because late last month, our organization sponsored a conference on Health Information Exchange (HIE) presented by Practice Transformation Institute and supported through a grant from BCBSM. A mainly in-person event, I attended virtually from New Hampshire where I was awaiting the birth of my first grandchild. (Yes, I can vouch for how wonderful grandparenting is, even from a distance!)

The conference objective was for participants to learn how the sharing of clinical and administrative data across the healthcare system contributes to improving patient safety, overall quality of care, public health and healthcare. Some topics included:

· Transforming care with connected teams

· What’s love got to do with HIT – how health information technology and the exchange of information between patients and providers is good for all

· Impacting the delivery of healthcare via HIE

· The patient experience of care using an app

· Integrating remote patient monitoring into the community

· The future of social determinants of health in the age of technology

· Bridging the gap between behavioral and physical health – how to work better together for shared patients

I offer this excerpted list of topics to show the breadth and depth of HIE in action, but also to illustrate the diversity of experiences that the presenters and conference attendees brought to the table. They were not there to be trained, but to share and learn more beyond their immediate scope of work – and how they could apply new thinking in their particular patient care environment. This experience took me back 12 years, when MedNetOne sponsored Practice Transformation Institute’s launch of Southeast Michigan’s first learning collaborative, known as the Mackinac Learning Collaborative. I trust some of my readers were in attendance – either in the first cohort, or one of the many subsequent collaboratives.

A learning collaborative is a learning and innovation community that links a variety of organizations together to rapidly test and implement meaningful change within a specific topic area. Our first collaborative focused on physician practices and follow-up cohorts focused on pediatric obesity, care management strategies, upstream care, rising risk, and developing staff to serve as coordination care assistants for transitions in care, among other topics.

Regardless of the topic, the ultimate goal for Mackinac Learning Collaborative participants was to improve delivery and quality of care and assist practices in becoming designated as a Patient-Centered Medical Home. (The latter goal is showing the age and staying power of PCMH – and our data supports that it was successful, with nine of the 11 participating practices that comprised the first Mackinac Learning Collaborative class recognized by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan as Patient-Centered Medical Homes in June 2010.)

So now that you’ve the trip down memory lane with me, what’s the takeaway? First, I have always believed that active learning sessions can change participants into positive change agents for better patient care and outcomes. Secondly, for individuals and teams eager to adopt the most advanced approaches for redesigning and nurturing their practices or launching healthcare initiatives, collaborative learning promotes an atmosphere of collegiality, not competition, with conversation that educates and stimulates shared thinking to create sustainable change.

I want to thank all of those presenters and participants who stimulated conversation at the April HIE event -and also give a shout out to those who remember the excitement of the Mackinac Learning Collaborative. But for readers who don’t fit in either category, I encourage you to attend your next “training” session as a learner and a collaborator who isn’t afraid to share lessons learned, ask “dumb” questions, raise tough issues or even play devil’s advocate. Such engagement and openness is what creates learning and propels action that lives long after the conference has concluded.