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Live from the AMIA 2012 Annual Symposium: the ONC's Judy Murphy Connects the Dots for Medical Informaticists

November 5, 2012
by Mark Hagland
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The ONC’s deputy national coordinator for programs and policy emphasized the links between MU and healthcare reform

Judy Murphy, R.N., deputy national coordinator for programs and policy at the federal office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) reinforced some of the key points that ONC leaders have been trying to make recently, when she appeared as the keynote speaker on Monday, Nov. 5, at the AMIA 2012 Annual Symposium, currently being held at the Chicago Hilton & Towers in downtown Chicago, and sponsored by the American Medical Informatics Association.

Murphy, who had been vice president of information services at the Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care, a 12- hospital integrated system in southeast Wisconsin, in December 2011 assumed the deputy national coordinator position, one formerly held by Farzad Mostashari, M.D., now the national coordinator.

Speaking to an audience of about 2,000 medical informaticists at AMIA, Murphy spoke passionately about the need to connect the goals of the meaningful use program under the HITECH Act (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act/Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act) to the broader goals of healthcare reform, particularly to the concept of accountable care. In fact, she noted, ONC leaders are preparing to solicit comments on Stage 3 requirements for meaningful use, with the specific intention of creating as explicit and strong a bridge as possible between meaningful use requirements and the data and IT requirements for the Medicare Shared Savings Program for accountable care organizations (ACOs).

For ONC officials, those sets of requirements are in turn linked to the official National Quality Strategy of the Obama administration, which encompasses three broad core principles: better health for the population, better care for individuals, and lowering costs and implementing better payment models.

“Health IT can help lay the foundation for the payment structure,” Murphy emphasized for the AMIA audience. “Let’s think about how we’re going to integrate it into the workflow and change practice. All the statistics I gave you were actually process statistics,” she said, referring to the blizzard of healthcare IT adoption-related statistics she had presented, in an overview of meaningful use and EHR/clinical IT adoption early in her speech. “ But our challenge for the future is not only to do it, but to measure it and change it.” The real, the ultimate goal, she underscored, is to support the triple aim of better health, better care, and lower costs, not simply to “check off boxes” under MU.

Murphy’s keynote address echoed the speech given by Dr. Mostashari on Oct. 17, when he appeared as a special plenary session speaker at the CHIME Fall Forum held in Palm Springs, Ca., and sponsored by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). Murphy spoke a passion similar to that of Mostashari, striving to connect all of the dots of electronic health record (EHR) implementation, care coordination, health information exchange, accountable care, population health efforts, and healthcare reform overall, in a comprehensive picture for her audience. She repeatedly referenced the website and its large trove of current statistics and information, citing a number of key statistics, including the number of eligible clinical professionals registered as MU participants (283,146), the number of eligible professionals who have received MU payments so far (140,446), the number of hospitals registered so far under the program (3,973), and the number of hospitals that have so far received MU payments (2,898; all of these statistics were current as of Aug. 31, 2012). Murphy also reeled off statistics around participation in the DIRECT program, in query-based health information exchange under the federal program in that area, and in the Blue Button program. But she returned time and again to the broad principles of healthcare reform and to what she referred to as the two key priority areas for the immediate future of the meaningful use program: patient-centric healthcare and patient engagement, carefully tying MU requirements such as e-prescribing, transition of care summary exchange, and patient-provider secure messaging to those two broader goals.

Murphy received a rousing ovation at the end, and in a conversation with Healthcare Informatics following the speech, Ferdinand Velasco, M.D., chief health information officer at Arlington, Tex.-based, 24-hospital, 4,100-bed Texas Health Resources, applauded both Murphy’s message, and her dynamism, saying, “She’s the female equivalent of Farzad [Mostashari]—very passionate. But more than that,” Velasco said, “I really appreciated her emphasis on patient engagement in her talk. That’s an important dimension of meaningful use, and we’ll need that for healthcare reform and in building an accountable care organization.”