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A Day of Transitions at ONC

January 20, 2016
by David Raths
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Halamka’s last day leading Standards Committee; chief health information officer McCoy departs; new Principal Deputy National Coordinator Vindell Washington, M.D., appointed

The Jan. 20 joint meeting of the federal Health IT Policy Committee and Health IT Standards Committee saw a changing of the guard, including the departure of the longtime Standards Committee chair John Halamka, M.D., CIO of Harvard Medical School/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who noted that his final meeting was his 200th trip to Washington, D.C., to work on health IT issues since 2005.

Reflecting on his time working on standards issues, Halamka said, “I am weary of the blunt instruments of regulation. You can lead a horse to water and make him drink or you can make the water better so that he will want to drink.” He said the prevailing trend seems to be a recognition that we have to make the water better.

National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D., said she wanted to acknowledge and thank Halamka for his extraordinary service in helping to advance health IT over the last 10 years. “I hope we can continue to call on his great wisdom,” she said.

In her introductory comments, DeSalvo announced that Vindell Washington, M.D., from her home state of Louisiana, has been named the ONC's Principal Deputy National Coordinator. He comes to ONC from Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System Medical Group in Baton Rouge, La., where he was chief medical information officer and led a team of more than 500 physicians and practitioners and 1,400 employees at more than 70 locations. DeSalvo noted that Washington had been a student of Dr. Halamka’s at Harvard and is a practicing emergency department physician. “He understands the use case around delivery system reform,” DeSalvo said. “He has been living that every day.”

DeSalvo also said that among the overarching principles HHS is focused on is the idea that consumers should easily be able to access their health information and direct it to any desired location to create a longitudinal health record. She also said she wanted the federal advisory committees to step up their work on cybersecurity issues in the next year or two.

Jon White, M.D., Deputy National Coordinator, announced that Michael McCoy, M.D., ONC’s chief health information officer, is returning to the private sector after a year at ONC. McCoy, a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist who practiced clinically for more than 20 years, has extensive experience in health information technology, specifically as the HIT specialist for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). White said that although McCoy had only been at ONC one year, he was involved in several key efforts, including the interoperability roadmap, work on information blocking and several proposed and final rules.

A task force assigned with looking at the feasibility of a certified health IT comparison tool presented its recommendations. It said ONC should: advance data sources such as its Certified Health IT Product List (CHPL) as an information resource for private sector tools It should contract with one or more tool vendors to ensure tools are accessible to, and meet the needs of, specialty and small practice providers It should communicate about comparison tool availability to health care providers, and make recommendations for private-sector consideration. But the task force decided that ONC should not develop and maintain a comparison tool or expand CHPL to serve as a comparison tool, nor should it endorse one or more tool vendors.

Some committee members suggested that workflows demonstrated in the EHR certification process could be recorded and shared via CHPL to give consumers more information to go on.

As Halamka rotates off the Standards Committee, Lisa Gallagher, Vice President of Technology Solutions, HIMSS North America, and Arien Malec, Vice President of Data Platform at RelayHealth, will serve as co-chairs. Malec thanked other Standards Committee members also leaving the committee, including: Keith Figlioli of Premier Inc., Rebecca Kush of the Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium, consultant Wes Rishel, James Ferguson of Kaiser Permanente and Chris Ross of Mayo Clinic.