Praise rolls in for Mostashari

'Farzad has been an excellent visionary and leader'
By Diana Manos
12:44 PM

Farzad Mostashari, MD, national coordinator for health information technology at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced Tuesday he will be stepping down from the post this autumn. Stakeholders across the healthcare industry say he will be dearly missed.

"Farzad has been an excellent visionary and leader in taking the initial efforts of Dr. (David) Blumenthal and maintaining momentum and excitement regarding HIT," said Marc Probst, CIO at Intermountain Healthcare and member of the federal Health IT Policy Committee that advises ONC. "I have been particularly impressed with Farzad’s attention to detail and focus on implementing HIT standards which can dramatically enhance interoperability and innovation in healthcare IT."

"I am sad to see Farzad move on, but I am confident that a transition can occur without disrupting the progress made to date," said Probst. "ONC has a strong, bright team, and although it may take a few months for a new national coordinator to gain traction, progress in HIT and meaningful use will go on. When Dr. Blumenthal moved on and Farzad took the roll, it was a time of change and concern, but the transition went smoothly and progress continued. I wish Farzad great success – no doubt he will remain a key player in health IT."

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Paul Tang, MD, vice president, chief innovation and technology officer at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Los Altos, Calif. As vice chair of the federal Health IT Policy Committee, Tang works closely with Mostashari, and experience Tang describes as "fabulous."

"He is a passionate visionary who never took his eye off the prize, while keeping his feet at least close to the ground," Tang said. "It's hard to fully comprehend what has been accomplished over the past four years under HITECH and meaningful use; but it has been nothing short of transformative.  Having an EHR and PHR is not optional any longer; it's required to deliver the care Americans need and deserve.  Especially in this industry, we owe Farzad a huge thanks for his leadership in getting us to this state."

"Working with Farzad has been an extraordinary experience," said John Halamka, MD, CIO of Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston. "His focus on public health and patient/family engagement has had an enormous impact. My greatest lesson learned from Farzad is to choose policy goals first, then implement IT to support them, rather than implement technology for technology's sake."

Halamka described Mostashari as "a person who balanced policy imperitives and implementation reality."

"If you just look at the change that's happened in the four years tha he's been deputy national coordinator and national coordinator, I think we've probably moved the needle more than in the previous 20."

"Farzad will be missed," said Scott MacLean, deputy CIO and director of IS Operations at Partners HealthCare in Boston. "He’s brought a unique combination of knowledge and passionate leadership that has really paved the way for adoption. The next ONC chief will bring their own energy to the role, but we are grateful for how Farzad has moved us forward."

He’s brought a unique combination of knowledge and passionate leadership that has really paved the way for adoption.  The next ONC Chief will bring their own energy to the role, but we are grateful for how Farzad has moved us forward.

[See also: Mostashari to step down as ONC chief.]

Brian Ahier of Advanced Health Information Exchange Resources (AHIER), reacted to the news of Mostashari’s leaving. "Farzad stepping down is a natural evolution in the progress of the ONC. He was the perfect person to drive health IT forward at this point. With Blumenthal we had a framework built and policy development, with Mostashari there has been strong progress in implementation – and both their personalities and skills matched those eras well. It will be very interesting to see who becomes the next national coordinator for this next phase."

"Farzad has been a very thoughtful and insightful ONC coordinator, a terrific collaborator with the industry and a great leader," said Justin Barnes, vice president of industry and government affairs at Greenway Medical Technologies. "We will certainly be saddened by his departure."

"I appreciate Farzad for the passion he brought to the role, his efforts to engage stakeholders from across the healthcare spectrum and the many initiatives he inspired to promote IT adoption," said Bill Spooner senior vice president and CIO at Sharp HealthCare. "He will be difficult to replace. Looking ahead, I can't immediately suggest a successor. I would like to see someone from community healthcare, where adoption and patient engagement are still challenging, lead ONC."

“Mostashari has long been committed to the value of health IT,” said Carla Smith executive vice president, of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). “At the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, he set a benchmark for how EHRs should be leveraged for public health and population health management, leading to the Department’s Public Health Information Project being awarded the prestigious HIMSS Davies Public Health Award of Excellence in 2011.”

“Dr. Mostashari himself was presented with the 2011 HIMSS Federal Leadership Award during National Health IT Week, and, thanks to his enthusiastic vision of our nation’s future health system, Dr. Mostashari routinely drew large audiences to his speeches at HIMSS events,” Smith added. “HIMSS appreciates Dr. Mostashari’s remarkable achievements as National Coordinator for Health IT and beyond.“

“Thanks to his energetic leadership, patient care is improving as providers and hospitals are implementing health IT, efficient information exchange is leading to better care coordination, and consumers are engaging as partners in their own health,” Smith said.  “We wish Farzad success as he enters the next phase of his career, and look forward to working with ONC to continue his vision.”

Russ Branzell, CEO, of CHIME, which represents more than 1,400 healthcare IT CIOs across the country, said he had talked with Mostashari this morning, and he understood that the move would be a good one for him and his family, that he would be entertaining perhaps a less stressful position.

"He’s quite committed to doing the right things," Branzell said.

Branzell added, that from a CIO perspective, he and CHIME members hope the next ONC chief will be able to build on Mostashari’s legacy. He hoped, he said, that it would be someone who worked in the trenches (as Mostashari had in New York City), whether a doctor, nurse or CIO.

In a subsequent statement, Branzell said, "Any CIO will tell you that implementing technology in the face of cultural resistance and process redesign is a monumental challenge.  ONC’s task was to help guide such implementations in over 5,000 hospital settings and with nearly 400,000 physicians and clinicians.  Today’s health delivery system is fundamentally different than it was five years ago when HITECH was passed, but it’s not because Congress simply passed a law.  It’s because ONC and CMS, in partnership with the private sector, designed an implementation strategy that tried to align various stakeholders and make the spirit of HITECH a reality."

[See also: Q&A with Farzad Mostashari.] 

Mostashari first joined ONC as its deputy national coordinator in July 2009. Under National Coordinator David Blumenthal’s tenure, Mostashari developed a series of grant programs to promote electronic health record adoption, furthered the development of health information exchange, and helped construct the workforce development program.

In June 2011, Mostashari took over as national coordinator, and his contributions have been significant. In what he calls "successive sprints," ONC launched a host of programs under his watch. In an Aug. 6 email to ONC staff, he named some:

  • Regional extension centers have assisted 140,000 providers- over 40 percent of all primary care providers in the country and over 80 percent of critical access hospitals- the largest medical technical assistance project in history.
  • Nationwide, adoption of health records has tripled in doctor’s offices and increased five-fold or more in hospitals.
  • Over half of prescriptions are now electronic.
  • New functionalities essential for population health management are increasingly available and used. National standards and protocols for information exchange and interoperability are being implemented throughout the industry.
  • Hospital readmissions are dropping, healthcare cost inflation is at historic lows, and the movement towards payment that rewards quality and value is gaining speed.  

"It is difficult for me to announce that I am leaving," Mostashari wrote to his team. "I don't know what I will be doing after I leave public service, but be assured that I will be by your side as we continue to battle for healthcare transformation, cheering you on."

In an interview with Healthcare IT News this summer, Mostashari explained why health IT is so important to him. "There’s an indispensible role of healthcare in easing suffering. Information and information tools help us apply the best care to an individual based on everything we’ve learned and to have that individual encounter contribute to the greater knowledge. That tension (between) the many and the one is very personal to me."

Editor Bernie Monegain contributed to this article.

This story was last updated on August 7, to add new comments.