David Muntz, who had served as Principal Deputy National Coordinator for Health IT at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) since January 2012, on Oct. 5 left the agency. As of the end of October, Muntz, 64, will join GetWell Network, a Bethesda, Md.-based vendor firm, as senior vice president and CIO. Muntz gave HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland an exclusive interview, the first since his departure from ONC. His departure also coincided with the departure of Farzad Mostashari, M.D., as National Coordinator, on the same Oct. 5 date. Below are excerpts from that interview.
So you’ve left ONC for a new position? What is that position?
Yes, as of the end of the month, I will be senior vice president and CIO at GetWellNetwork, based in Bethesda, Maryland.
What made you decide to make this move?
I’ve loved the work I’ve been doing at ONC, but it was time for me to move back from the macro to the micro. You know, I grew up as the son of a doctor, and I used to love going to work with my father. That was in the days long before HIPAA, and instead of playing catch with me as some fathers do with their sons, he would let me hold up x-ray films for him. And you would see people who were crying tears, sometimes because they had received bad news, but more often, tears of joy. And those were things that I’ve missed. To be honest, I got very sentimental about some things in the vendor sector. And I’m anxious to get to work with a whole bunch of providers on patient engagement, which is a major focus of that company.
You and Dr. Mostashari left on the same date. Is everything OK at ONC?
Sure. I can leave now, because of the strength of the team at ONC. It’s a very strong, capable team. You have to remember that ONC is filled with very talented, very capable people. Things are going very well there. And they’re extremely gifted as a team; there are extremely talented people there. ONC is directing policy, but people in the field are executing that policy; and I wanted to get back to executing.
When you look back on your tenure at ONC, what would you say were your biggest accomplishments?
Some of the biggest satisfactions for me came from being able to provide a real-world perspective, having been a CIO. And specifically, I would say, probably, setting up the Office of Consumer eHealth and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer. Those were decisions made based on observations that I had had [about changes that needed to be made]. More broadly, some of my biggest satisfactions there came from being able to provide a real-world perspective, having been a CIO. The other thing that I brought to ONC was a business mentality; we introduced business governance and demand management there. Before that, people had struggled with priorities. So I think [the agency] is more disciplined now.
When you look back on the entirety of your career, what would you say your biggest accomplishments have been?
Really, I think back to two in particular. I actually started my career as a biostatistician, and became a CIO very early, at the age of 26, and eventually became a CEO at Wadley Institutes, a 110-bed hospital in Dallas that also encompassed a research institute and the blood bank for the city of Dallas. At Wadley, we created an electronic health record beginning in the late 1970s, into the early 1980s. That was one accomplishment I’m proud of. And then, as CEO at Wadley, I got to make a decision that usually clinicians make. I was able to order the testing of donated blood for hepatitis C, in the late 1980s. That was almost unprecedented at that time.
Going back to our conversation about ONC, do you hope that the next coordinator will come from a patient care organization leadership position?
I think there needs to be a great fit with what the Secretary [Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services] wants to accomplish. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter what I think about whether it should be a nurse or physician or a CIO. I think there needs to be a great fit with the Secretary. And I’d love to see someone with a good record of implementation; that would be great. So, the elements needed will be great chemistry with the Secretary, and somebody who has the trust of the medical community; and someone who understands how to do policy effectively.
The whole world seems to be becoming more partisan these days. Do you think that the partisanship in Washington might negatively impact the later stages of meaningful use?
I really don’t think so. The good thing about the creation of the ONC was that it was created by President George W. Bush, and then built upon by President Barack Obama, and still enjoys wide bipartisan support.
What about the letters from Republican congressmen and senators to Secretary Sebelius in the past year-plus that have questioned the direction of meaningful use?
The questioning itself doesn’t necessarily show opposition. In fact, when I read the questions coming from members of Congress, they showed genuine interest, and weren’t accusatory in tone. And when I’ve interacted with legislators’ staffs, it’s been a very positive experience.
Are you concerned about the current federal government shutdown, and how it might hurt healthcare reform and healthcare system change?
The shutdown hurts so many people in so many different ways. People want to help people; that’s what I find so disturbing about this shutdown. You know, you do a very good job of informing people, through your publication. Now imagine if someone told you that you couldn’t inform people anymore. The harm is true of any kind of shutdown. I know everybody wants to do the right thing; I just wish that they could find the common ground needed to come together and do that right thing.
When you look at the meaningful use process at this point in time, how do you feel, overall?
I’m cautiously optimistic. I am concerned about the degree to which people can absorb change. And it’s important to understand what needs to be done. So I’m concerned with change management, regardless of the specific [federal healthcare] program, in this incredibly rapidly changing environment. Which, by the way, is one of the reasons I’m excited to go to GetWell. They’re very concerned about how we change patient behavior; that’s a critical element in all this. It’s not enough just to get providers excited [about change in healthcare].
Where do you see healthcare right now, overall?
I just think this is a wonderful time for change, and I know that people are struggling. The change will be great. It’s just the transitions that are difficult. And people need to make sure to focus on the endpoint, terms of healthcare reform. And the Affordable care Act is intended to help move us forward in that regard.