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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- While ONC Acting Director of Consumer eHealth Lana Moriarty might be stepping into a new position, patient engagement and advocacy are nothing new to her.
Formerly with the HHS's Health Resources and Services Administration, Moriarty worked on initiatives such as National Health Service Corps and the Nurse Corps to aid underserved patients living with HIV, as well as support rural development.
Part of her job will be to make sure ONC keeps patients first, not always a simple task for policymakers and technical experts mired in deep data-exchange debates.
"[Inside the ONC], my focus is to keep consumer engagement on people's minds, make sure they are considering consumer aspects as we go forward," Moriarty told SearchHealthIT at ONC's 2014 Consumer Health IT Summit, kicking off National Health IT Week. "I think we can get bogged down in other policy and economic issues and lose track of what's really important."
Showing patients the power of health data
The other part of Moriarty's job description involves showing the value of and demonstrating uses of health data to the both patients and providers, which she considers the bigger challenge -- because ONC head Karen DeSalvo, M.D., comes from a public health background and is a patient champion herself, and is "pushing from the top" on behalf of patients on the inside, she said.
Outside the ONC, being the health data evangelist to practitioners is a taller order. But Moriarty sees health IT as an opportunity to forge better relationships between patients and providers.
"We're in a different world now; we have to have a different way of operating in it," Moriarty said. "It's no longer the providers telling patients, 'Here's your outcome, here's what I'm advising you to do.' It's really a partnership where both sides see the benefits, so we have better outcomes."
She added that there may be some opportunities to get her former colleagues at National Health Service Corps involved in patient engagement work, as they are plugged in to numerous underserved patient populations that could benefit from federal health IT initiatives.
Consumer eHealth top ONC priority
The ONC named Moriarty acting director as the health IT agency seeks a permanent director for the position. The field of applicants may include Moriarty herself as a candidate. For her part, DeSalvo said that consumer eHealth was an important office to keep in the fore, and in fact, ONC elevated the office when it streamlined its organizational chart earlier this year.
"The goal is to [emphasize] the consumer's voice," DeSalvo told SearchHealthIT between sessions at the ONC patient summit.
Lygeia Ricciardiformer ONC director of consumer eHealth
Outgoing eHealth director Lygeia Ricciardi, who also attended the summit, said she is still "kicking the sand from the sandals" after taking some time off, and has yet to determine where she will land next. She said that success for the consumer eHealth office becomes easier when the director taps into the network of nationally known patient advocates, many of whom were present at the gathering. That, and throwing the spotlight on their struggles and other patient stories.
"You have to keep bringing it back to real people, and not esoteric policy matters," Ricciardi said. "This is about every one of us."
ONC departures pile on meaningful use woes
Karen DeSalvo, national health IT coordinator, on public health
Moriarty part of recent ONC staff changes