Healthcare Leaders React To ONC’s New Chief Appointment

Posted on by Frank J. Rosello

HHS appointed a new chief to head the Office of the National Coordinator on Thursday, and so far the decision has been lauded by industry leaders.

Karen DeSalvo, MD, current health commissioner of New Orleans, will be taking the ONC reins Jan. 13, replacing acting national coordinator Jacob Reider. She is the first woman to serve in this role.

Carole Pritchard, corporate director of information technology at Henry Ford Hospital, said it’s a “wonderful accomplishment” for DeSalvo and further demonstrates “how far women have come in leveling the playing field in many industries,” she told Healthcare IT News. It’s a step in the right direction for “breaking the glass ceiling,” Pritchard added.

The news of DeSalvo’s appointment was also much abuzz on Twitter.

Urmimala Sarkar, MD, internist at San Franscico General Hospital and health IT researcher, tweeted, “Yes! Karen DeSalvo…good for primary care, public health patients.”

“Karen DeSalvo MD is an awesome choice to be National Coordinator for Health IT,” tweeted Ruben Amarasingham, MD, associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern’s department of clinical science.

Some, however, corrected language of news reports that stated DeSalvo would “replace” Former ONC chief Farzad Mostashari, MD, who stepped down from his post this fall.

David Shaywitz, MD, director of strategic and commercial planning at biopharm company Theravance and co-founder of the Center for Assessment Technology and Continuous Health, tweeted, “Sebelius can we agree to phrase as ‘Farzad’s successor’ — many would say he’s irreplaceable.”

DeSalvo is recognized in the health IT industry as the one who spearheaded the efforts to rebuild the public health infrastructure in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

“Louisiana has consistently ranked 49th out of 50 states in healthcare status,” said Karen DeSalvo, speaking at HIMSS13 in New Orleans this year, one of the reasons she took the job as city health commissioner. “Policy decisions were made not to expand healthcare access for the poor and uninsured, which leads to overuse of the emergency room, which leads to high cost, and low quality of care. This was all aggravated by the impact of Katrina.”

Now, DeSalvo will be focusing her efforts on national scale health IT adoption and meaningful use.

HIMSS, Healthcare IT News‘ parent company, called the appointment an “excellent selection.” DeSalvo “has a deep understanding of the value of informatics, as well as of the challenges and promise of interoperability,” HIMSS Executive Vice President Carla Smith said in a Dec. 19 press statement.

Acting Coordinator Reider also welcomed HHS’ decision to bring on DeSalvo.

“She has deep knowledge and experience in health policy, medical education and public health. Her experience is a perfect fit for ONC’s role of using health IT to improve the healthcare system nationwide,” he wrote in a memo to ONC staff. Reider will be returning to his previous role of ONC’s chief medical officer.

Before DeSalvo assumed the role of health commissioner starting in 2011, she served as professor of medicine and vice dean for community affairs and health policy at Tulane University School of Medicine, where she led the efforts to launch neighborhood-based primary care and mental health services for vulnerable populations in the city following Katrina. She has also served as president of the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum and as a member of the Steering Committee for the Crescent City Beacon Community grant.

Article written by Erin McCann

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