New ONC consumer eHealth chief eyes low-income populations

By Jonah Comstock
11:56 am

Lana MoriartyLast week, as part of its Health IT week, the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT announced that it had hired Lana Moriarty as its new acting director of consumer e-health. Moriarty steps into the shoes of Lygeia Ricciardi, who departed in July after holding the office for three and a half years, during which the bulk of the work was done on the ONC's Blue Button project for consumer access to electronic health records.

"I have a keen interest in ... keeping the consumer angle at the top of ONC’s list," Moriarty told MobiHealthNews. "We work very closely with every office at ONC, and that’s really where I see my role, is focusing on keeping that consumer piece on everyone’s agenda and just helping them to [ask] -- whether it’s policy, whether we’re looking at any type of issue -- are they considering consumers within that?"

Moriarty comes from elsewhere in the Department of Health and Human Services. She previously worked at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), where she oversaw the Health Service Corps and Nurse Corps, a federal loan repayment plan Moriarty described as "sort of like a Peace Corps for medical professionals." Although the position did not have a technology focus, Moriarty says she's always kept up with health information technology academically. The real tie from that job to this one is the focus on not just the consumer, but on every kind of healthcare consumer, from the wealthy to the underserved.

"Throughout my career it’s been a common thread that I’ve focused on in every aspect of my job: Providing access to healthcare," she said. "So I feel that this was a natural fit for me coming from underserved communities but also looking at how we can empower people with technology and moving into using new tools, be it electronic health records or mobile apps, what have you, to have people take a more active role and engage in their health, care about their health, be at the center of their health outcomes."

At the same time as ONC introduced Moriarty, they launched a new Blue Button Toolkit for developers. The toolkit replaces the previous Blue Button Implementation Guide and added new technical approaches to bringing in the data. It also includes tools tailored for new provider audiences like labs, pharmacies, immunization registries, and health information exchanges.

Moriarty said Blue Button Plus is moving into a new stage of implementation, one that will gun for a wider range of partners, and encourage them to not just pledge to use Blue Button, but to really implement it.

"Definitely we’re going to continue to build on Blue Button, our pledge program for Blue Button to get 500 companies linked up to that," she said. "But I really feel like we’re turning that into more actions, rather than just having commitments from people. We’re making sure that we can actually have champions in the field, that we can rely on people to sort of do some of the outreach in collaboration with our office and to really get the word out further. ... We have a lot of ideas that are brewing for this next year. We’ve talked about a focus on underserved communities and I think that given my connection with the National Health Service Corps I would really like to see somehow us using the providers across this vast network to harness those types of opportunities as well."

The other piece where Blue Button needs to improve, Moriarty said, is gathering more and better data about how consumers are and aren't using the service where's it's available.

"How could we do message testing, and how could we do some research around the electronic health records, some research question framed around how patients are using different forms of technology to capture their electronic health records?" she said. "I think we really just need some more information around when people are downloading it: How are they using this? Are they using apps that they found through us or through other means? Through the Blue Button Connector? Are they capturing data in their own personal health records? Are they sharing that? I think there’s still a lot of information and a lot of data that we need to capture around the use of these and that will actually help us better target consumers."

In other ONC appointment news, the office just recently announced a new director of the ONC Health IT Certification Program, Captain Alicia Morton. Morton's rank is in the US Navy, where she served on active duty at the National Naval Medical Center Bethesda and aboard the USNS Comfort. She has also worked at CMS and has been with ONC since 2005.

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