ONC revamps for the road ahead

By Mary Mosquera
11:48 AM

Amid the hubbub last December over getting the health IT "meaningful use" proposal out the door by deadline, the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT quietly reorganized its entire 100-plus-person operation.

The reason? Along with the new responsibilities it took on in managing policymaking for the health IT incentives in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the small office became the operational equivalent of a $2 billion corporation"chief purser for grants, awards and competitions to spur health IT investment nationwide.

Said ONC spokeswoman Nancy Szemraj: "The re-organization chart represents what we feel to be the best business structure to get the many jobs we have on our plates done."

While ARRA did not require an organizational overhaul, ONC's expanding workload meant the office needed to be revamped, she said. A new organizational chart was drawn up in coordination with Health & Human Services Department "business process" teams.

The new scheme sets up a more sophisticated network of five primary offices working under the office of the national coordinator, Dr. David Blumenthal.

Among the five, three stand out as having strategic roles and responsibilities: new offices for a Chief Privacy Officer, Chief Scientist and a new Office of Economic Modeling and Analysis.

Recently appointed chief privacy officer Joy Pritts will not only advise the national coordinator on health IT privacy, security and data stewardship but will coordinate similar efforts with other federal and state agencies.

The Office of the Chief Scientist is headed by Charles Friedman, who previously was deputy national coordinator. His office replaces an "interoperability and standards group" under the Bush administration's ONC, and will evaluate health IT grant programs, and identify and track health IT innovation and research pertinent to the ONC.

The Office of Economic Modeling and Analysis, headed by Melinda Buntin, replaces an earlier health IT adoption group. The new office will apply statistical approaches and economic analyses to health IT investments and policy, such as cost reductions resulting from EHR adoption.

The reorganization sets up two additional deputy national coordinators: one for programs and policy; another for operations.

The Office of the Deputy National Coordinator for Programs and Policy, who was not named by press time, will oversee ONC's field responsibilities, including managing grant programs promoting meaningful use of health IT, making standards for nationwide health information exchange and managing privacy and security policy.

A separate Office of the Deputy National Coordinator for Operations, headed by acting deputy for operations Elisabeth Handley, will manage activities that support ONC programs, such as budget formulation, contract and grants management and financial and staff planning.