Perspectives on the HCI Executive Summit: Dr. Mostashari's Dilemma | By Mark Hagland | Healthcare Blogs Skip to content Skip to navigation

Perspectives on the HCI Executive Summit: Dr. Mostashari's Dilemma

May 31, 2011
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Smiling or stern? Can the National Coordinator set just the right tone in his public interactions? Renata Tebaldi would know exactly what to do

When Farzad Mostashari, M.D., the National Coordinator for Health IT, spoke at the Healthcare Informatics Executive Summit last month in San Francisco, it’s clear he had found his footing with our audience of healthcare IT leaders. Dr. Mostashari was engaged and engaging, charming, yet also naturally authoritative in the way in which he presented himself, during his presentation on meaningful use to the leaders assembled for our magazine’s summit.

Dr. Mostashari’s presentation focused on some of the key policy and procedural successes so far on the meaningful use journey, as well as on his perspectives around next steps and the path ahead to and beyond 2015. Nothing he said was particularly surprising, but his summation of perspectives around MU was helpful, and his audience seemed very appreciative. Everyone I spoke to afterwards was delighted by the speech, and glad to hear directly from Dr. Mostashari on how he sees things right now—since of course, his perceptions will be very important in how he helps to guide policy at the ONC.

What I thought was particularly interesting in the presentation, and in how he answered questions during the QandA session that followed, was how carefully and precisely Dr. Mostashari crafted his tone in this public appearance (and how he has done so in other appearances as well, though this was his first public appearance that I had seen since he was elevated to National Coordinator in early April). He clearly wants to get the best responses and participation possible in the HITECH/meaningful use process from providers; and so, appropriately, his tone was positive, optimistic, and encouraging, while at the same time, he consistently made it clear that he’s not going to get dragged down “into the weeds” when it comes to specific details of meaningful use requirements.

So, despite the very legitimate concerns on the part of provider IT leaders regarding such issues as quality data reporting, attestation timing, vendor certification, meaningful use and physician participation in ACOs, and a host of others, Dr. Mostashari has clearly chosen to maintain an upbeat, yet authoritative tone, in his public appearances before provider audiences. I think that is a very smart strategy, as it’s the most likely one to elicit the kinds of responses he and his colleagues at ONC, CMS, and HHS want to elicit from the industry.

It also reminds me of a well-known anecdote (among opera-philes like myself, at least!) about the great Italian soprano Renata Tebaldi, an operatic artist who knew what and when she could sing, and who graciously but firmly resisted being coerced into performing repertoire she felt wasn’t appropriate for her. Once, when Metropolitan Opera General Manager Sir Rudolf Bing was asked what he thought of Madame Tebaldi, he famously said, referring to that well-known resolve of hers, “She has dimples of steel.”

Given the complexity—and, let’s face it— fragility of the policy and political process around meaningful use at this point in time, it would certainly help Farzad Mostashari to cultivate the same “dimples of steel” as had La Tebaldi. Based on his appearance at our Summit, he seems well on his way to working those smile muscles into prime fitness, and resolving the inherent dilemma around tone as the meaningful use journey goes forward.

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