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Informatics Take Over at the Office of the National Coordinator

The new National Coordinator recently discussed his experiences in health IT and informatics as well as his vision for the future of clinical efficiency.

EHR Data Analytics

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- A new post by Don Rucker, MD offers healthcare professionals insight into the healthcare and informatics experiences of the newest National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

In an article on ONC’s blog, Rucker weighs in on changes in the software health IT industry and delves a bit into his background as an informaticist.

“As a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania, I was surprised by how inefficient healthcare seemed to be,” wrote Rucker.

“As a resident at University of California San Diego, I realized that what was really missing in making healthcare more efficient was data,” Rucker continued. “Personal computers were becoming more commonplace at that time and I started thinking about building software to capture data to improve healthcare.”

Rucker went on to pursue an MBA at Stanford University and joined Ted Shortliffe’s medical computer science and artificial intelligence program to extend his knowledge of clinical efficiency.

Upon graduating, Rucker gained immediate first hand experiences with EHRs before the technology was even a blip on the radar of most health professionals or health IT experts.

“While my business school classmates went on to investment banking and consulting firms, I joined a five-person startup founded by Paul Gertman that was building the first Windows-based electronic medical record in the world,” wrote Rucker. “I was involved with this business, Datamedic, in various capacities throughout the 1990s and also became the first full-time emergency room attending physician at Beth Israel in Boston. “

Shortly thereafter, Rucker joined Shared Medical Systems, later acquired by Siemens, and gained experience as a CIO. He designed and deployed Computerized Provider Order Entry (CPOE) systems at US hospitals, which has since become a staple at hospitals and healthcare organizations.

“One can argue that CPOE was the broadly based clinical software to make hospitals more efficient,” added Rucker.

Looking ahead, Rucker hopes for healthcare delivery fueled by a variety of data sources.

“Ultimately I envision care that is driven by multiple electronic data streams – not just one’s own personal medical history, but also insights from population and public health efforts,” said Rucker. “That’s not yet a reality, but it is within reach.”

Before multiple electronic data streams begin informing all clinical care decisions, Rucker’s focus will be on improving interoperability industry-wide.

“We will also prioritize improving EHR technologies and reducing documentation burden, time inefficiencies, and hassle for clinicians, allowing them to focus on their patients rather than their computers,” added Rucker. “We need to ensure that our policies reflect the goals of economic transparency and operational efficiency to lower both the cost of care and administrative costs.”

To this end, ONC will collaborate with stakeholders in both the public and private sector as well as policymakers to ensure federal regulations do not become unmanageable or overly strict.

Working with CMS to ensure the implementation of the Quality Payment Program as part of MACRA runs smoothly is also high on ONC’s list of priorities.

“We’ll also be working closely with our colleagues at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on the implementation of the Quality Payment Program established by provisions of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 to ensure that we aren’t burdening clinicians with more work that takes them away from patient care,” stated Rucker.

ONC and CMS will also collaborate this summer as part of a multi-stakeholder alliance convened by CAQH to develop a roadmap for improving provider data accuracy.

Representatives from both federal organizations will address challenges and devise strategies to acquire accurate, timely provider data.

“I’m optimistic that my path straddling high performance clinical medicine, as well as cutting edge software development, will power additional insights to help ONC best serve the health needs of our country,” stated Rucker. 

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