ONC's Judy Murphy: Ability to send and receive health data not good enough

Technology has laid the groundwork for better patient care and workflow, but technology must be the means to the end--not the end itself, Judy Murphy, R.N., deputy national coordinator for program and policy at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, told a gathering of healthcare CIOs yesterday.

Speaking at the College of Health Information Management Executives' CIO forum yesterday in New Orleans, Murphy (right) laid out ONC's priorities for policies and programs, including building on Meaningful Use momentum, getting patients to engage with their own health data and multi-way sharing of data through the use of tools such as computerized physician order entry and e-prescribing.

It's time, she said, for healthcare organizations to move from looking inward at their own systems and data to looking outward--sending and receiving data from other providers, payers, state and federal agencies and patients and their families.  

But although the capability to send and receive data is an important means to the desired end, it's not enough, she said. You can't just store information in the electronic health record as a "data blob," she said. You have to be able to share it, crunch the numbers, get patients engaged in it, use it for decision support and more.

For example, 48 states have electronic immunization registries. That's great--the data is there. But only three allow patients to access them. Physicians can access these databases through a portal; the next logical step is a patient portal.

Stage 2 of Meaningful Use gives interoperability a "kick in the pants," she said. But although there is a strong business case for it, it's been more difficult to execute than expected.  

"Interoperability is … actually quite complicated," Murphy said. "I am here to say that looking at the criteria, understanding it, understanding what your vendor is saying about it--it's really tough."

So what's ONC doing to make it easier? Murphy outlined a number of initiatives, such as online patient-education videos that providers can run in their waiting rooms to help patients understand why it is important for them to check their medical records (or even just raise awareness that they have the right to do so).

Providers also can expect a new round of training sessions on ONC's website--four new modules in the next month--on major Meaningful Use criteria. She mentioned the patient advocates who are serving as ambassadors for health IT and trying to change the culture of doctor-patient relationships. And she mentioned the variety of ONC-sponsored challenges, such as for Blue Button "mash-ups."

Murphy also said ONC is meeting with vendors at the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society conference, which kicks off today in New Orleans, to dig down to the "gory details" of Meaningful Use interoperability.

The thrust going forward, she said, will be "really embodying the change of paying for value rather than volume [and staying] focused on quality and not just the piecemeal pieces of what we're doing." 

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