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The Health IT Advocate Not Easy to Forget

August 26, 2014
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The general public probably does not know who Todd Park is—and that’s too bad.

If they do know Park, they may know him as one of the people who was (reportedly) behind the troubled launch.  I recently ran into a politically-driven article from a few months ago, which I won’t link, that said Park should have gotten fired over the mess. I wanted to barf.

This is laughable in its ignorance and an unfortunate side effect of the political blame game, as was outlined in an article on  For what it’s worth, it was Park who was tasked by President Obama himself to fix the website. What many people like to skip over is that he and a team of Silicon Valley techies were able to do so successfully.

While most outside observers will focus on that chapter in Park’s career, I want to expound on his accomplishments in open data, and why it’s unfortunate that he is reportedly stepping down as the U.S. Chief Technology Officer (CTO). This is a huge loss for the federal government. People of Park’s caliber just don’t come along to the federal government too often.

To me, Park is a hall-of-fame health IT advocate. Along with co-founding public health IT companies like athenahealth (when was 24 years old, no less) and Castlight Health, he was responsible as a federal official for kick-starting several healthcare open data initiatives that have pushed this industry forward.

The first blog I ever wrote for Healthcare Informatics was in admiration of Park’s “Informacion Liberacion” speech at an event that year. As I’ve come to realize over the last few years, Park’s enthusiasm and energy is a rarity in healthcare IT. It’s also not an act. The guy is really that excited about open data and how it can impact healthcare.

My blog headline was “A Speech Not Easy to Forget,” and truthfully, I never did. If only, everyone that spoke at these conferences had Park’s charisma. Here’s what I wrote then:

Quite simply, if you left Park’s speech without a clearer understanding of the issues, you probably weren’t paying attention.

But more than that, he did it with incredible enthusiasm. It’s not easy for any expert to explain why the HIT industry is at a critical crossroads as clearly as Park has done. It’s even harder to do it with the zeal and vigor that brings a crowd to its feet. This is particularly impressive for a federal administrator.

This skill is why Park was an incredible asset for the federal government. It’s why I lauded his ascension to the top tech position in the government a few months after that speech. He got you excited about open data in healthcare and using that data to change this industry for the better.

Park was a breath of fresh air in the government. He ran the department like a Silicon Valley startup, focusing on lean methods and outside production. For instance he ran challenges and developer contests to improve the way data is delivered to providers and patients. Under Park’s leadership, healthcare has gone a long way in doing with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) data what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data did for the weather industry.

I don’t blame Park for taking a step back. Still, it’s disappointing for those of us who have followed his career and have seen his talents first-hand. It’s a tough loss. What’s positive about this news is that apparently Park’s influence will not be completely lost. According to several reports, he will be working from Silicon Valley and attempting to recruit many of the tech industry’s brightest minds to the federal government. He may even recruit his replacement.

Needless to say, if those men and women are as talented as Park, then the tech-portion of the federal government will be just fine. Then again, the man is a rarity.

Please feel free to respond in the comment section below or on Twitter by following me at @GabrielSPerna

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