ONC reorganizes for push on EHR, HITECH goals

By Mary Mosquera
03:42 PM

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) announced it would reorganize the office to better reflect its role as a leading force in the adoption of electronic health records and other health IT, including closer oversight of privacy issues.

Appointing a chief privacy officer is one of the main moves detailed in a notice published in the Federal Register. The notice is dated Nov. 20, but the changes are effective as of Dec. 1.

The reorganization is part of the preparations called for in federal health IT stimulus legislation to support physicians and hospitals to become meaningful users of electronic health records and be eligible for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments starting in 2011.  

ONC’s reorganization below the top leadership is designed to “more effectively” accomplish the tasks in the HITECH Act, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who signed the notice.

The chief privacy officer, who will be named by the secretary, is a new role. In addition to advising the national health coordinator on privacy, security and data stewardship of electronic health information, the privacy officer will coordinate similar efforts with other federal, state and regional agencies and also with foreign countries.

Since its creation in 2004, ONC has been arranged around health IT adoption, interoperability and standards, programs and coordination, and policy and research.

The new organizational lines, other than the chief privacy officer, are:

  • The Office of Economic Modeling and Analysis, which replaces the health IT adoption component, will apply statistical approaches and economic analyses to health IT investments and policy to support its strategy, such as cost reductions resulting from the adoption of electronic health records.   
  • The Office of the Chief Scientist, which replaces the interoperability and standards group, will evaluate health IT grant programs, identify and track innovations and lead research in the area. The office, which will have staff with special knowledge of medical bioinformatics, will develop education programs and collaborate with other agencies to assess new health IT programs. 
  • The Office of the Deputy National Coordinator for Programs and Policy, which replaces the programs and coordination component, will oversee grant programs that promote meaningful use of interoperable health IT for individual and population health.

It will also develop the approaches for establishing the standards needed for nationwide health information exchange and policy for privacy and security for health data. It will coordinate programs among HHS agencies and other federal and public health agencies to lessen duplication.

The Office of the Deputy National Coordinator for Operations, which replaces the policy and research group, performs activities that support ONC programs, such as budget formulation, contract and grants management and financial and staff planning.

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