Federal Officials Encourage Action, Preview New Data Tools

Health IT officials from the US Department of Health and Human Services emphasized the importance of HIM professionals’ role in the future of US healthcare and delivered an update on future federal innovations during two presentations Sept. 17 at AHIMA’s Health Information Integrity Summit.

Muntz: HIM Must Be ‘Agitators’ in DC

David Muntz, CHCIO, FCHIME, FHIMSS, principal deputy at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), delivered the Alexandria, VA summit’s second day keynote address, “Leading the Way to Health Information Integrity: EHRs are Gaining Critical Mass, Now What?”

David Muntz, principal deputy at ONC, addresses the summit audience.

David Muntz, principal deputy at ONC, addresses the summit audience.

Muntz began his career as a biostatistician, working as a file clerk in the medical records department of a Texas hospital in 1969 where he was involved in early development of an electronic health records system. Muntz acknowledged in his presentation that HIM professionals are in a tough spot working to implement the “meaningful use” EHR Incentive Program both within their facilities and within the regulatory arena.

Muntz encouraged HIM professionals to be “agitators” and make their voices heard in Washington, DC, and characterized HIM departments as the unsung heroes of hospitals.

Muntz did, however, acknowledge that ONC as well as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has been hearing repeated requests from health IT stakeholders about delaying or extending the meaningful use timeline.

“The good news is that one voice can make a difference,” Muntz said. “The bad news is, one voice can make a difference. You have to write balanced comments—it’s important that we get the full spectrum of viewpoints.”

Brennan: CMS Revamping Health Data Tools

The summit’s Sept. 17 afternoon sessions started with guest speaker Niall Brennan, acting director, data analytics strategy group, at CMS, who began on a humorous note.

“In Washington you don’t run across health informaticians very much—I don’t know if this causes you to view me with caution or derision,” Brennan joked.

In his presentation, “CMS Harnesses the Power of Health Data to Improve Health,” Brennan talked about data analytics projects CMS has been working to improve and update such as the Chronic Conditions Dashboard, Medicare’s Blue Button project, and a new Virtual Research Data Center—which the agency plans to roll out in the fall.

Brennan said CMS is very excited about the Virtual Research Data Center and described it as a potential “game changer” for researchers looking for simpler access to Medicare data.

Although users of the data center will need to pay for access, Brennan said the barrier to entry will be more affordable for new, small research organizations with fewer resources.

“[Users] will VPN into our data center, have tools you’ll need to manipulate it [data], download it out on aggregated basis,” Brennan explained. “There’s a screen that makes sure no protected health information leaves. And it improves the security of the data since it never leaves the building.”



Follow the Journal‘s coverage for news and insights from AHIMA’s Health Information Integrity Summit taking place September 16-17 in Alexandria, VA. To explore more, click here.


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