Five Recommendations for ONC Head Who Understands Health IT Innovation

By David Kibbe
11:04 AM

Now that the legislative language of the HITECH Act -- the $20 billion health IT allocation within the economic stimulus package -- has been set, it's time to identify a National Coordinator (NC) for Health IT who can capably lead that office. As many now realize, the language of the Bill can be ambiguous, requiring wise regulatory interpretation and execution to ensure that the money is spent well and that desired outcomes are achieved. Among other tasks, the NC will influence appointments to the new Health Information Technology (HIT) Policy and Standards Committees, refine the Electronic Health Record (EHR) technology certification process, and oversee how information exchange grants and provider incentive payments will be handled.

Previously we have described our concerns with US health information technology and the policy agenda that has grown up around it. In the case of EHRs specifically, the tools that have been developed to date are often non-ergonomic, excessively costly, non-interoperable, and interruptive of practice work flows. They continue, in many cases, to use client-server rather than Web-based technologies, creating barriers to lower cost and easy data exchange. Most important, these issues are obstacles to the organic, market-driven development of a nationally compatible health IT platform. In large measure, they have resulted from the protectionist influence of powerful health IT firms whose interests would be best served by approaches that build on proprietary and pre-Internet health IT designs rather than upon innovation that would move health care closer to e-health.


We believe the key question for the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), as the Secretary of HHS' principal Health IT adviser, is centered on whether and how health policy encourages innovation. Will the NC promote desperately-needed progress in the development, implementation and use of health IT, or constrain it under well-meaning but often over-zealous certification and standard setting? Will we buy innovative tools that let both providers and patients achieve better quality and lower cost, or buy yesterday's expert systems that resulted in our current problems?  Will we facilitate and build on incremental solutions, or continue to delay action through endless expert panels, meetings, and rules-setting exercises?

The aperture of innovation can be opened much wider than it has been. Here are five individuals, each of whom, we believe, as National Coordinator, would encourage innovation and change from the status quo. All of these people have demonstrated a vision of health care connectedness, quality, and efficiency that are in the common, rather than the special, interest, and each has the administrative skills and savvy to bring that vision to fruition. 

Farzad Mostashari, MD MPH
Assistant Commissioner
Primary Care Information Project
New York City Department of Health
and Mental Hygiene

Dr. Mostashari chairs the Primary Care Information Taskforce, whose goal is to bring about the adoption of public health-oriented health information technology in underserved communities. He is a primary care physician with the unprecedented experience of having rolled out EHR technology to physicians and medical practices serving over 30 percent of New York City's Medicaid and underserved population. Among the largest and most successful EHR implementations in the country, this effort has included 1,500 public and private sector medical practices, rather than simply one large enterprise. An epidemiologist, Dr. Mostashari understands data and has the statistical expertise necessary for decision making at the individual, community, and population levels. 

Dr. Mostashari has hard-won hands-on experience with implementing EHR technologies in the small and medium-sized medical practices that make up 75 percent of America's medical community, as well as knowledge that extends to public health and preventive services. He would bring a pragmatic vision of connected health for all Americans.

Carol Diamond, MD, MPH
Managing Director, Health Program
Markle Foundation

Dr. Diamond chairs Markle's Connecting for Health program, a public-private collaborative working to realize the full potential of information technology in health and health care. Among other significant achievements, she led the multi-year collaborative that produced the Common Framework for Networked Personal Health Information, the widely-endorsed (and current default) set of principles and practices that govern the exchange of personally identified health data among health care institutions, and between health care institutions and lay people. Dr. Diamond  works with many private sector groups, government agencies, and health information technology bodies. She played a role with federal agencies and the health IT community in the development of, a secure web site that made prescription medication histories available to doctors and pharmacists caring for evacuees whose medical records were destroyed in the hurricane.

If the new NC must possess particular skills, it will be those of mediator and coalition builder. With a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead, Dr. Diamond has led national health IT collaboratives that actually produce results people, provider organizations, and health IT companies, can use.

Peter Basch, MD
Medical Director for Clinical Ambulatory Systems
Medstar Health System

Dr. Basch, DC area MedStar Health's medical director for e-Health, has been a leader in applying IT to the needs of physicians. An early EHR adopter in his own practice at MedStar Health, Dr. Basch now is directing EHR implemention throughout all of MedStar's ambulatory practices. He is a frequent writer, speaker and expert panelist on EHRs, interconnectivity, health care's transformation through IT, and the sustainable business case for information management and quality. Dr. Basch served as the chairman of the Maryland Task Force on EHRs that recently issued its final report. He has co-chaired the Physicians’ EHR Coalition, is a board member of the eHealth Initiative, and a member of the American College of Physicians’ Medical Informatics Subcommittee and Medical Services Committee.

With Dr. Basch, we'd get deep technical expertise, direct experience with implementation, credibility among practicing physicians and their membership organizations, an a voice that can represent primary care within large enterprises.

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