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DeSalvo unveils ONC plans for health IT beyond HITECH Act

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is preparing itself for the next era of health IT adoption, one that will not rely primarily on financial incentives for healthcare providers.

In an in email to members of the federal agency, National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, addressed the need for the ONC to pivot and realign itself as the investments from the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) come to end.

These funds were responsible for getting the EHR Incentive Programs and the meaningful use of certified EHR technology off the ground and also included funding for the regional extension centers (RECs) and health information exchanges (HIEs) created to support eligible professionals and hospitals in their pursuit of Stage 1 and Stage 2 Meaningful Use.

As DeSalvo noted in her note, the ONC’s role will be expanding in terms of its work as a “convener to further advance new and innovative uses of health IT across the federal government and with the private sector.”

Here’s the message from the National Coordinator to the ONC:

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For the past several months, we have been talking about moving into the next chapter of ONC. Last month, we marked 10 years of service to this country and have much to celebrate about the advancement of a health IT infrastructure that can help improve care, lower cost, and improve the health of everyone. It is your work, passion, and dedication that bring the promise and power of health IT to reality.

As we have discussed in prior meetings, the HITECH Act’s health IT infrastructure and program investments are ending and it is our responsibility to take this opportunity to reshape our agency to be as efficient and effective as possible, never losing sight of our primary accountability — the people of America.

At the All-Staff Meeting on Wednesday, May 28, we had the opportunity to talk with you about our agency’s next functional realignment. To inform this evolution, we have spent the last few months seeking input from the senior team, from prior leaders of ONC, and reviewing prior organizational structures and efforts. We have sought input from our stakeholders within and outside of HHS. I have also had the opportunity to learn from many of you firsthand about our work on the front lines and how we might realign ourselves to be ready to meet the expectations of the nation in our next chapter of work. All of this input has helped to shape this realignment and I thank everyone for that. This new structure will help us expand our role as convener to further advance new and innovative uses of health IT across the federal government and with the private sector.

Now as we pivot to a new decade, these few strategic, organizational changes allow us to better align the agency to meet the needs of the future. This functional realignment will improve the overall effectiveness and efficiency of ONC by combining similar functions, elevating critical priority functions, and providing a flatter and more accountable reporting structure. In addition, this realignment will support our focus on developing and implementing an interoperability roadmap, supporting care transformation, and establishing a framework to support appropriate use of health data to further meaningful consumer engagement, system-level quality and safety of care, improvements in the public’s health, and advancements in science.

As discussed at our All-Staff Meeting, ONC’s leadership team will include:

Office of Care Transformation: Kelly Cronin
Office of the Chief Privacy Officer: Joy Pritts
Office of the Chief Operating Officer: Lisa Lewis
Office of the Chief Scientist: Doug Fridsma, MD, PhD
Office of Clinical Quality and Safety: Judy Murphy, RN
Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Analysis: Seth Pazinski
Office of Policy: Jodi Daniel
Office of Programs: Kim Lynch
Office of Public Affairs and Communications: Nora Super
Office of Standards and Technology: Steve Posnack

Each of these leaders will report directly to the Immediate Office of the National Coordinator, which includes Deputy National Coordinator Jacob Reider, MD, and me.

You and your predecessors have built a strong foundation here at ONC and for health IT across the nation. Now it is time to begin the next chapter to promote interoperable health IT solutions that support the ultimate goal of better health for all. Thank you for your passion and contributions to our critical mission.

As the stick takes the place of the carrot and providers move forward with less support from the federal government and Medicare and Medicaid, so too must the ONC find a place for itself and a meaningful role to play going forward.

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