Kirsten Murtagh: Using the power of data to tell a complete patient story.

Health data impacts every aspect of healthcare, across every organization. It enables healthcare providers to provide patients with more affordable, higher quality care. Kirsten Murtagh, Director of Customer Success at Manifest MedEx, has a longstanding passion for data that has been the driving force behind her career in healthcare.

We sat down with Kirsten to hear more about her background and how her love of data and working with customers drives her current role at MX, guiding customers every step of the way as together they navigate the world of health information exchange (HIE).

MX: You have a long history with data — tell us about your background in healthcare.
Kirsten: My background has been primarily working hands-on with healthcare data. When I was in graduate school, I took an applied statistics class and was introduced to working with large datasets and research methods. I was also introduced to different software programs used for statistical analysis (Minitab, SPSS); I realized that I loved working with data.

After graduation, I was determined to get a job at Stanford so I could pursue working with data in a research environment. After a year of sending in applications, I finally got an entry-level job as a data bank manager with the School of Medicine, Immunology, and Rheumatology department — essentially managing both a clinical database and a database containing longitudinal survey data of patient-reported outcomes. My colleagues were not only clinicians, but also expert researchers, and I learned so much from them.

During my six years at Stanford, I learned how to use SAS® to manage our large patient datasets and to conduct statistical analysis for our research studies. I was mentored by wonderful faculty and investigators who gave me the opportunity to work on their studies and contribute to study manuscripts. I also took advantage of being allowed to audit graduate coursework in epidemiology. It was great! I am most proud of authoring my own research and being a co-author on many publications. I always think of my time at Stanford as my golden years — being really immersed in data and research.

MX: Where did your journey take you after Stanford?
Kirsten: Eventually it was time to spread my wings and venture out of academia. After a brief stint at a consulting firm working with pharmaceutical companies and doing outcomes research, I went to work at a company called Medstat (which through acquisitions and such became Thomson Reuters, Truven Health Analytics, and finally IBM Watson Health). The first few years, my world was working with large employer claims data, providing standard and customized reporting along with analytic insights. As my career progressed, I was still working with data but was more and more interacting with our clients, and that’s where I started to learn about and develop skills related to client services. I’m a people person, and connecting with people and helping comes very naturally. I discovered I loved the client-facing role and thrived in this position.

The rest of my years were spent working in our federal group, where we provided all sorts of services to the federal government. I worked closely with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over the years on a variety of projects (but mostly on projects related to fraud, waste, and abuse in states’ Medicaid programs) and then spent the last three years working very closely with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, providing project management and support services for researchers using MarketScan® data. Government contracting can be very intense, but I feel it truly taught me about the importance of accountability and delivering the highest quality work, no matter what!

MX: What brought you to Manifest MedEx?
Kirsten: After Truven Health Analytics was acquired by IBM, I was ready for a change — I had been with the company for over a decade. It was time. I learned about the position with Manifest MedEx via LinkedIn. When I read the description, my first thought was, “Wow, this really sounds like a good fit for me.”

This was a big shift for me and something new to learn — the world of HIE and also being on the provider side — having worked so many years on the payer side with claims data from employers and state and federal government. This chance to leap out of my comfort zone was really appealing. My position here is also very customer-centric, which really spoke to me and is what I love.

MX: Tell us more about your role with MX.
Kirsten: I’m the Director of Customer Success. There are five of us on the Customer Success team now, and we’re responsible for the onboarding of MX participants to our products and services. When a new participant joins the network, they’re handed off to the Customer Success team; we reach out and start the process of getting them set up with access to our tools. What that looks like differs depending on the needs of each participant — whether it’s an ambulatory site versus a hospital, for example. We make sure our participants have the tools that will bring the most value. We talk through use-cases with new participants, and then ultimately, we train them so that they’re comfortable using the system. We provide ongoing support to our participants as they’re using our products and services.

If there are things that prove to be a little challenging or frustrating, we’re the point of contact. It is important that our participants know they have a team in place to support them. They can come to us, and we will help.

MX: If you could get one message across to the most influential leaders in healthcare, what would it be?
Kirsten: I would say, we all need to remember healthcare data is complicated and massive, and it can be really messy. It’s important for us to continue to look for ways to make that data more manageable and usable and connected because it’s powerful when used in a smart way. Claims data, clinical data, pharmacy data, you name it — combined — can tell a comprehensive story that can improve care and better lives. I think when it comes to healthcare data, particularly the exchange of healthcare data, we can’t give up. We’ve got to keep at it.