10 things to know about Karen DeSalvo

By Frank Irving
12:20 PM
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In announcing the appointment of Karen DeSalvo, MD, as the new national coordinator for health information technology, Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius focused on DeSalvo's experience as health commissioner of New Orleans.

Here are 10 aspects of Karen DeSalvo’s background that may help define how she'll carry on the crucial work of her predecessors.

“Some of you know her through her work with the Crescent City Beacon Community, one of our national leaders in applying health IT to creatively solve challenging problems in care delivery,” Sebelius wrote in a letter to staff at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

We'll soon learn more about DeSalvo's approach to the challenges facing providers and patients in the current healthcare environment. Until then, here are 10 aspects of her background that may help define how she'll carry on the crucial work of her predecessors, now 10 years in the making.

1) She received an undergraduate degree in biology and political science from Suffolk University in Boston then moved to Tulane University Health Sciences Center where she simultaneously received her Medical Doctorate and Masters of Public Health. She also holds a Master's in Clinical Epidemiology from Harvard's School of Public Health.

2) Before serving as New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu's health policy advisor in 2011, she was Tulane University School of Medicine's vice dean for community affairs and health policy.

3) She is an advocate for strengthening the U.S. public health infrastructure. Speaking at the American College of Physicians annual meeting in 2012, as reported by Medical Practice Insider, she commented, “The traditional role of public health departments at any level of government is changing. It’s moving out of a direct-delivery service model and into a broader focus on the population’s health and public health about those highly important, winnable battles with chronic diseases and the causes thereof, like obesity and smoking, but also some of the challenges in healthcare access and disparities in care.”

[See also: Healthcare breach prediction 2014: 'a perfect storm']

4) During her tenure as health commissioner, the city implemented the Greater New Orleans Community Health Connection program, which allows residents to obtain a Medicaid waiver andaccess primary healthcare providers.

5) She founded and served as president of 504HealthNet, a consortium of safety net providers in the New Orleans region.

6) She was named one of Governing magazine's Public Officials of the Year for 2013-14.

7) She was named as a Children's Hero by the Children's Bureau of New Orleans in October 2013.

8) She received recognition in 2008 from the Louisiana Legislative Women's Caucus among the "Women of Excellence in Health Care."

9) She will become the nation's fifth national coordinator for health IT, following Farzad Mostashari, MD; David Blumenthal, MD; Robert Kolodner, MD; and David Brailer, MD. Jacob Reider, MD, appointed as acting national coordinator in November upon Mostashari's departure, will continue to serve until DeSalvo takes her position on Jan. 13.

10) Her successor as New Orleans health commissioner will be Charlotte Parent, the department's current deputy director.