A new chief for ONC

By Diana Manos
11:37 AM
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Mostashari, Blumenthal’s deputy, takes the helm

WASHINGTON – On April 8, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology named Farzad Mostashari, MD, to replace David Blumenthal, MD, as national coordinator for health information technology.

Mostashari, who had been serving as Blumenthal's deputy since July 2009, received a warm welcome from stakeholders.

The announcement was not unexpected, with Blumenthal having announced in February that he would leave the position in the spring.

At the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference on Feb. 22 in Orlando, Fla., Mostashari hinted at his possibly taking over the role at an ONC Town Hall meeting when he said, “In a sense, David is handing the mantle back to us.”

“With David’s departure, this is a time to analyze if we are on the right track,” Mostashari said. “Most would agree we're on the right track, but we need to keep moving ahead, and that's what we intend to do. We need to constantly focus on improving and doing a better job.”

Mostashari arrived at to the position with plenty of experience. Prior to his stint at the ONC, he served as assistant commissioner for the primary care information project for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where he facilitated the adoption of prevention-oriented health information technology by more than 1,500 providers in underserved communities.

Also in New York City, Mostashari led the Center of Excellence in Public Health Informatics and established the Bureau of Epidemiology Services. He did his graduate training at the Harvard School of Public Health and Yale Medical School and his internal medicine residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Stakeholders praised Mostashari's appointment.

HIMSS leaders noted “Dr. Mostashari’s leadership on a number of issues, including provider adoption and associated certification requirements, interoperability and health information exchange, and efforts to engage all communities in driving the innovation that is necessary for transforming healthcare.”

“We are very comfortable with the directions he advocates,” HIMSS officials said in a statement.

Matt Murray, MD, of Digitized Medicine, called Mostashari “articulate and energetic.”

Brian Ahier, author of the blog Healthcare, Technology & Government 2.0 and an ardent ONC policy follower, said, “This is no time for doubt or uncertainty, and Farzad will provide the continuity that is so badly needed.”

John Halamka, CIO of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, said Mostashari “has great operational experience” from his tenure as assistant commissioner for the Primary Care Information Project in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“Farzad's combination of policy knowledge, familiarity with the needs of small providers and passion for improving health with IT tools will serve the country well,” Halamka said. “From personal experience, I know that his vision for creating decision support systems and data-driven quality improvement resulted in improvements to several EHR products and innovations like the PopHealth.”

Blumenthal left ONC’s helm after serving since March 2009. In a memo to his staff last February, he said he would be returning to his “academic home,” as was planned from the start of his ONC tenure.

During his two years as the federal government's health IT chief, he was responsible for launching one of the most ambitious federal efforts to advance healthcare IT adoption in history, as was mandated by the HITECH Act in February 2009.

Mostashari stepped immediately into something of a diplomatic quagmire, with some industry heavyweights calling for a delay of meaningful use Stage 2 requirements, which were slated to kick in in 2013 under the HITECH Act incentive program.