ONC's David Muntz: New meaningful use exceptions advice on way

U.S. principal deputy HIT coordinator David Muntz covers exceptions to meaningful use, the evolution of healthcare provider CIOs and more.

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Soon, the ONC will post a new blog that offers advice to help physicians determine whether they are eligible for meaningful use exceptions and how to get them, said U.S. principal deputy national health IT coordinator David Muntz.

I see us in the era of 'CIO 2.0' or even '3.0.' CIOs are not the technical guys who sit in the back room anymore; they should be the business guys with technical training.

David Muntz,
U.S. principal deputy national HIT coordinator

The rules for the exceptions -- which allow some doctors to qualify for EHR incentives when they can't meet some of the meaningful use criteria -- are already in place, and the new post will offer no new information, Muntz told SearchHealthIT after presenting at the American Health Information Management Association's Health Information Integrity Summit. But the agency realized in communications with healthcare providers that there's confusion as to how the exceptions work, and it hopes to offer clarity in explaining details not widely known.

While specialists can sometimes wonder how they fit into meaningful use, which Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CIO John Halamka, M.D., characterizes as "primary care-centric," it's rural providers who may need even more clarification on qualifying for EHR incentives. Until ONC can coordinate with other federal agencies to help bring them broadband services, those exceptions can bridge the gap and allow for meaningful use attestation.

"The biggest issue, really, is in infrastructure," Muntz said. "When you don't have access to high-speed Internet, that's where I see a lot of exceptions."

Search for new coordinator under way

Farzad Mostashari, M.D., is leaving the ONC next month after two-plus years at the agency's helm. Muntz confirmed to SearchHealthIT that the national search for Mostashari's successor is under way.

While he was mum on his own prospects for the position, Muntz, a fellow of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), would likely be a strong candidate in the eyes of several healthcare CIOs we interviewed earlier this month who called for someone with IT operations experience.

Muntz did say that regardless of who is chosen to be the next coordinator -- a politically appointed position -- the staff infrastructure at ONC is in place to ensure a smooth, stable transition.

"It's like the loss of a CEO; there's a very strong organization that sits underneath the CEO that does the operational things," Muntz said. "We have a strong management team in place, we have strong programs in place, we have a clear vision of the future, we've got a private-sector approach to a variety of things, [so] I feel comfortable about that."

Healthcare provider CIO a dying breed?

Across many business sectors, observers wonder if the CIO is a dying breed, or at least evolving into a different position than a chief technologist running the IT underpinnings of an organization. Muntz, a CHIME fellow and former Baylor Health Care System CIO, echoed this notion in his presentation too. He suggested that the CIO position in healthcare might be in decline while a new executive conversant in "value analytics" is on the rise.

These new officers, he continued, will be able to prove the value of new technology implementations. They will be able to justify what IT can contribute in a particular project or department and what it can't.

All that being said, Muntz sees IT remaining part of "the DNA of every organization," especially in healthcare. Data systems will continue to play a critical role in maintaining quality of healthcare and applying standards far more complex than most other market sectors use -- because patients present far more data points, as does their care and measuring outcomes.

"The fact is, there will still be somebody needed who can manage the operational and production part of the IT environment, but the kind of role they play needs to support whatever the business goals are," Muntz told SearchHealthIT. "We've already seen big changes, I see us in the era of 'CIO 2.0' or even '3.0.' CIOs are not the technical guys who sit in the back room anymore; they should be the business guys with technical training who sit at the executive table."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Don Fluckinger, news director, or contact @DonFluckinger on Twitter.

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