The new year is just a couple weeks old. Younger still is the tenure of the new head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc. During the first meeting of the HIT Policy Committee and her second day of office, DeSalvo delivered her first remarks which consisted mostly of an overview of her background with a particular focus on her most recent experiences as the City Health Commissioner of New Orleans.
So what do we know about the next National Coordinator’s vision for the future of healthcare reform? According to DeSalvo, it won’t necessarily being in the area of content expertise.
“I’m not a content expert like you all are, and that’s no secret, which the Secretary [Kathleen Sebelius] and I have had a conversation about,” she told the Federal Advisory Committee. “It is really remarkable that she and [Deputy Secretary] Bill Corr recognize that ONC is much more than an area of content expertise — that it is an opportunity and there is great promise in health information technology to be in the leading mix of delivery reform for this country.”
As DeSalvo revealed, the next phase of the ONC’s work is both to extend the reach of health IT and use it effectively to manage the health of population as a whole:
That is the major next chapter that we must undertake as part of the President’s major domestic policy initiative; that is, to see the promise of health information technology in the clinical interface for the health systems and the population and community at large come to fruition and that we are able to not only make care more effective but more valuable and that we actually begin to see real improvements in health over time and then are also able to much more for people in the event of disaster so we can enable preparedness.
For a glimpse of what that might look like, DeSalvo’s professional experience in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina serves as a useful lens. It is a story she told last March at an event celebrating the Crescent City Beacon Community during HIMSS13:
My history started on the street after Katrina, building with many people here from the ground up the healthcare infrastructure that was poised and ready to meet the demand of implementing electronic health records using regional extension grants; working to exchange that data statewide through a health information exchange grant; and then locally working on not just the exchange but thinking about how all those community providers and hospitals like Ochsner and West Draft could come together and make the decision that they were not just going to use the data for the personal right in front of them but figure out how we could make people healthier in our entire community and focus on diabetes and cardiovascular disease and doing that.
In short, the ONC’s focus will be to put health IT to work in tangible way that has far-reaching effects for patients in diverse communities with unique needs.
The sentiment was echoed by HITPC Vice Chair Paul Tang who highlighted the kind of expertise that would be needed to lead during this year of transition. “I know you said you’re not content expert, but clearly from your story you’re an expert of the content we need, which is how we can use this technology to reform the health system which you faced in New Orleans,” he explained.
“I had a brief chance to meet with her yesterday on her first day, her second day in DC and first day on the job, and I’m so inspired by your energy and your passion around this,” Tang continued. “I know that this is going to be a wonderful year in terms of taking the next step with the programs in ONC and through HITECH.”
That esprit de corps will be necessary for supporting an industry dealing with a transition to ICD-10, preparation for Stage 2 Meaningful Use, and implementation of payment reforms.