Kudos for DeSalvo choice for HHS post

Health IT insiders say she understands the issues 'in the trenches'
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President Obama's nomination of ONC Chief Karen DeSalvo, MD, to the post of Assistant HHS Secretary, did not surprise many in health IT circles. After all, she was already Acting Assistant Secretary.

As some stakeholders say, if she is confirmed, they will have an advocate in an even higher position in government.

[See also: Obama nominates DeSalvo for HHS post.]

HIMSS was first to weigh in on the May 6 nominaton with a statement congratulating her.

"We remain committed to working with Secretary Burwell and HHS, as well as the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology during the confirmation and eventual transition to ensure our nation stays focused on achieving interoperable and secure healthcare information exchange that supports care coordination and healthcare transformation," said HIMSS Executive Vice President Carla Smith.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell drafted DeSalvo in October 2014 to serve as Acting Assistant Secretary for Health to oversee the country's Ebola response and other public health issues.
 
Since then, DeSalvo has divided her time between the HHS and ONC posts. At ONC, her most recent work has been focused on interoperability, releasing a draft roadmap for interoperability on Jan. 30. In April, DeSalvo called out information blockers in a blog she wrote with Jodi G. Daniel, ONC's director of the Office of Policy Planning. ONC also notified Congress of the practice, noting that an examination of the issue was both timely and warranted.

"She's been a great advocate for us," said Russ Branzell, CEO of CHIME, which represent 1,400 CIOs. As he sees it, one of DeSalvo's strengths is that she's worked in the trenches and "understands the pain one has to go through this transformational process."

Following Hurricane Katrina, DeSalvo was a community leader in building an innovative and award-winning model of neighborhood-based primary care and mental health services for low-income, uninsured and other vulnerable individuals that boasts a sophisticated health IT infrastructure.

Before joining ONC, she was Health Commissioner for the City of New Orleans, and Senior Health Policy Advisor to New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu, from 2011-2014. While there, she transformed the outmoded health department to one that has since achieved national accreditation, and restored healthcare to devastated areas of the city, including leading the establishment of a public hospital.

"It's much appreciated the work that she's done, especially listening to the field and getting our input," Branzell said. "The great news is we'll have a great advocate in a higher position in HHS, which only helps us."

He said he hoped that ONC would find someone with experience in the field to serve as the next national coordinator.

Keith J. Figlioli, Premier, Inc. senior vice president of healthcare informatics and member of the ONC's Health IT Standards Committee, called DeSalvo a "strong advocate and leader for open data access to transform healthcare."

Will interoprability efforts lose steam without her?

"We have confidence this focus will continue even if she were to leave the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology," Figlioli said, noting that DeSalvo spearheaded the foundational connection of interoperable health IT, demonstrating strong support for innovation and open application program interfaces, APIs, to achieve interoperability.

"This issue is now a priority for the administration, as well as a top priority on Capitol Hill, so we have every confidence that it will remain a central priority at ONC regardless of the leadership," he said.

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