National Coordinator for Health IT Vindell Washington: 9 things to know about the new ONC chief

The sixth ONC leader is a longtime proponent of health IT and information exchange.
By Jessica Davis
11:16 AM

This past Friday, Karen DeSalvo, MD, officially stepped down as National Coordinator, passing the baton to her second-in-command, Vindell Washington, MD. The former principal deputy national coordinator has been with ONC since January 2016.

As National Coordinator, Washington will continue working toward the goal of leveraging health IT to reform care delivery and empower clinicians with research and innovation, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement.

As Washington settles into this new job, here are nine things to know about him.

1. As principal deputy national coordinator, Washington worked on delivery system reform, the opioid crisis and President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative.

2. Even before he joined ONC, he championed for a cumulative effort from all healthcare leaders to further health information exchange. At a 2015 Senate Committee Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing he said: "ONC shouldn't unilaterally set the standard, but could both convene the appropriate stakeholders where necessary and most importantly, select the specific standards. … Some of the problems rest in the fact that there are many areas of medicine that don't use truly standard terminology; therefore, setting a technical standard will not fix all issues in this space."

3. Prior to ONC, Washington was chief medical information officer of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System and president of its medical group. The Baton Rouge health system has five acute care hospitals and other facilities in Louisiana that provide care to 40 percent of the state's population.

4. Washington also served as senior accountable executive for information technology at Franciscan Missionaries. During this time, the health system became one of the early adopters of IT, including the integration of medical device information into electronic health records and widespread clinical decision support for physician documentation workflow.

5. Before joining Franciscan Missionaries, Washington was CEO of Piedmont Healthcare Management Group in Charlotte, a healthcare management and technology company. The organization was sold to Anodyne Health, which was acquired by athenahealth in 2009.

6. Washington found his passion for health IT during his time as a U.S. Army Captain. In a May 2016 blog post, he described a patient at a combat support hospital in Haiti with a skin condition that baffled Washington and his colleagues. In response, they set up a telecommunications kit on a Humvee roof to link their unit with providers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Through this action, they were able to diagnose the soldier with a rare condition.

"Once you have access to any technology that allows you to significantly improve patient outcomes, you never want to go back," Washington said.

7. His passion for medicine became personal in 1964 when his grandmother had a pituitary tumor removed that left her blind in one eye. Washington recalled that it was this moment he decided to pursue medicine to understand how this could happen.

8. As an emergency room resident in the early 1990s, he used his small PDA to make lists of doses and algorithms to administer complex patient data that could be available at a moment's notice. Washington noted, "We have an amazing opportunity to take our work to new heights when we put to use the technology that is at our fingertips."

9. Washington earned his Bachelor of Science from Pennsylvania State University and a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Virginia. He also holds a Master of Science in Healthcare Management from Harvard University School of Public Health.

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