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INDUSTRY-EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: CHIME's Russ Branzell on the Mostashari Departure from ONC

August 6, 2013
by Mark Hagland
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CHIME’s Branzell speaks exclusively to HCI regarding his perspectives on the Mostashari departure from ONC

Upon the announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on August 6 that Farzad Mostashari, M.D. was planning to leave his post as National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Russell P. Branzell and George T. Hickman issued a joint statement regarding the departure, representing the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), the nation’s CIO association. Branzell is president and CEO of CHIME, and Hickman, excecutive vice president and CIO of Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center, is CHIME’s  board chair.

“Through Dr. Farzad Mostashari’s leadership, we saw the Office of the National Coordinator lead our nation’s providers through the first gates of measured, meaningful use of electronic health records, and address in reality those initial standards that make our health information portable across the U.S. healthcare system,” the statement said.

“Any CIO will tell you that implementing technology in the face of cultural resistance and process redesign is a monumental challenge,” Branzell and Hickman continued. “ONC’s task was to help guide such implementations in over 5,000 hospital settings and with nearly 400,000 physicians and clinicians.  Today’s health delivery system is fundamentally different than it was five years ago when HITECH was passed, but it’s not because Congress simply passed a law.  It’s because ONC and CMS, in partnership with the private sector, designed an implementation strategy that tried to align various stakeholders and make the spirit of HITECH a reality.”

And, they concluded, “CHIME appreciates the partnership forged under Dr. Mostashari’s tenure and his commitment in furthering the development of widespread health IT adoption. We wish him continued success in his future endeavors.”

Following the release of the statement on August 6, Branzell spoke exclusively to HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding the Mostashari departure from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). Below are excerpts from that interview.

Do you think this departure right now will be damaging to the meaningful use process?

I think it all depends on how the transition occurs. I talked to him this morning, and it sounds as though he will stay on at least until the end of September, and hopefully a successor will be found by then. Either that, or they’ll name an interim national coordinator.

And by definition, David Muntz [Principal Deputy National Coordinator] is a second-in-command who can assume a lot of his duties. I don’t think it will be disruptive, in the sense that what’s in place is already in place. Stage 2 is already done. Now, what we want to make sure stays as a high-priority item, at CHIME, is either the changing around of the sequencing of action under Stage 2, and/or a straightforward extension of Stage 2. And that’s one of the things we want to make sure stays front and center.

Russell P. Branzell

Why do you think Dr. Mostashari is leaving right now?

He told me that he thought this was the time for him; he’s been there since 2009, and he just thought this was a logical and appropriate time for him to transition. And I’ll tell you, we’re very appreciative of everything he’s done. One of things he’s done is to bring in the voice of the community—CIOs, physicians, and nurses—to be part of the process. And one of the things I asked him was what he’d like to see in his successor; because we’d like to see a CIO or physician or nurse, someone who’s worked with some of the requirements of Stage 2 meaningful use, placed into that office.

So you’re not necessary arguing for David Muntz or Judy Murphy [Judy Murphy, R.N., Deputy National Coordinator for Programs and Policy] to succeed Dr. Mostashari?

Oh, absolutely, either David or Judy could succeed him; both of them do have that provider-organization experience, and both would be logical and highly qualified candidates. Now whether or not they’re interested, is a different question. This is very highly stressful work. If either of them would throw their hat into the ring, we would be very strong supporters.

What would you say is has been Dr. Mostashari’s signature achievement?

I think getting us launched; he was basically handed stage 1. He got it going, and argued for the appropriate extension for making it practical, and also got stage 2 ready. And you could argue that there are still some issues in Stage 2; but overall, still, the process has worked and is working, probably in one of the most difficult periods possible, during time of economic challenges, and a difficult political environment in Washington, and he’s gotten this done. But we still need to get detailed standards, and reasonable timing and sequencing for Stages 2 and 3.

Do you see anything else unfinished that needs to be done?

We’re only a third of the way through this journey. So Farzad leaves with a significant part of the journey still to be accomplished. So that’s a very significant thing to point out, that he leaves at a time when we’re not very far down the path, with a lot of things still to do. And lots of things can still happen, particularly in the political environment, and we have to stay focused, because as hard as it is to continue forward, it would be even harder now to undo it.