Halfway through David Muntz’s excellent opening keynote address at the Healthcare Informatics Executive Summit this afternoon (May 6), I was struck once again by the sense that his having joined the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) four months ago may have marked a significant turning point for the federal agency. Let’s call it the Muntz Effect.
Here’s the thing: David Muntz, who spent decades as a healthcare CIO before being appointed principal deputy national coordinator at ONC, possesses a truly exceptional combination of character traits, skill sets, experiences, and perspectives. He is a visionary, which he proved conclusively while senior vice president and CIO at the Dallas-based Baylor Health Care System (as well as proving himself an exceptionally effective executive and manager there); he is someone with an instinctive grasp of healthcare policy, coming from the pragmatic perspective of a just-recently-former CIO; he is obviously, fundamentally, a very, very smart man; and, perhaps, in a way, most importantly of all, he is a deeply empathetic and personable industry leader who is able to bring out the very best in everyone he interacts with.
And I will posit, for purposes of argument here, that it is that last characteristic—allied, of course, with all his other characteristics and assets—that could in a certain way prove to be the most important one, at this particular juncture in ONC’s history, and in the industry’s evolution; and here’s why.
All of us will remember the scholarly hauteur of David Blumenthal, M.D., an obviously exceptionally intelligent national coordinator who nonetheless managed to leave many healthcare IT leaders a bit cold. In contrast, Farzad Mostashari, M.D., when he came into the national coordinator role, instantly put everyone at ease and was able to create a different tenor altogether in his interactions with provider leaders. And now, David Muntz, coming into the number-two post in the agency, is in an absolutely key position, by dint of his long leadership on the provider side, having come into the principal deputy role as one of the most admired CIOs in the U.S. If there’s anything ONC can use right now, it’s David Muntz’s personableness and natural down-home-Texas diplomacy.
And that’s because, as we move into the middle and later stages of the meaningful use process, the strain on CIOs and other healthcare IT leaders will only intensify, and ONC will need every bit of Muntz’s natural optimism and his ability to put provider leaders at ease. Consider the harsh disapproval on the part of the American Hospital Association of the stage 2 MU requirement mandating that patients provide electronic health information within 36 hours of discharge. Our Associate Editor, Gabe Perna, wrote an excellent blog about this last week. It will take the skills of a modern-day Metternich to keep prodding providers forward, while smiling all the way. Who has such skills? David Muntz has them in abundance.
So, as the industry moves from stage 1 of meaningful use into stages 2 and 3, I can’t think of anyone whose combination of personal characteristics, skill sets, experiences, and perspectives could be of greater help to Dr. Mostashari and his colleagues at ONC than David Muntz. And I can’t think of many in our industry who would disagree with that assessment, either.