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CHIME, HIMSS Latest to Express Concern Over ONC Leadership

November 10, 2014
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) have expressed concern with leadership transitions currently occurring within the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

In a joint letter to Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Sylvia Mathews Burwell, CHIME and HIMSS wrote that “changes which could have a detrimental effect on ONC’s role in HHS’s charge to positively transform our nation’s health system.” The comments are in reference to recent high-level departures at ONC, specifically in the wake of the news that Karen DeSalvo, M.D., will be stepping away from her role as National Coordinator for Health IT to help with the Obama administration’s Ebola response effort. DeSalvo isn’t the only one to leave her position; Dr. Doug Fridsma and Judy Murphy departed ONC this month, and Dr. Jacob Reider is leaving at the end of November, the letter notes. These top leadership changes have seemed to leave the industry shaken and in search for answers.

The industry associations continue in the letter: “Health IT is a dynamic field; to successfully address the needs of patients, providers, and developers, ONC’s leadership team must be in place over the next two years. Such constancy will pay huge dividends in navigating al l the changes that must occur for positive transformation. The combination of skills and focus is paramount; without it, we question whether our nation can successfully address the next challenging level of meaningful use and the delivery reforms required in the Affordable Care Act.”

CHIME and HIMSS urge HHS to fill all ONC leadership positions as soon as possible with well-respected leaders who possess a combination of clinical training and practice, clinical and business informatics expertise, a clear vision for IT’s role in enabling healthcare transformation, and experience in public policy.

In regards to DeSalvo’s role going forward, ONC has said that she will maintain her leadership at the agency while helping with the Ebola threat. “If her appointment as the Assistant Secretary for Health is intended to be of a duration which would result in her quickly returning to full-time leadership of ONC, we welcome that approach,” CHIME and HIMSS say. However, the letter continues, “A full-time National Coordinator must be in place in time for ONC’s review of all comments received from the public on the Interoperability Roadmap v1.0. If Dr. DeSalvo is going to remain as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Health with part-time duties in health IT, we emphasize the need to appoint new ONC leadership immediately that can lead the agency on the host of critical issues that must be addressed.”  Lisa Lewis, the chief operating officer at ONC, has stepped in for DeSalvo for the time being as Acting National Coordinator for Health IT.  

CHIME and HIMSS aren’t the only associations that have expressed concern over the leadership changes at ONC. Robert M. Wah, M.D., the President of the American Medical Association (AMA), recently said that the departures of DeSalvo and Reider specifically, “leave a significant leadership gap which could jeopardize the growing momentum around interoperability."

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