With MU2 under attack, DeSalvo works two roles with HHS

October 30, 2014

In the midst of ONC Director Karen DeSalvo gaining new responsibilities, the ONC’s meaningful use program has been under scrutiny, with many questioning its effectiveness.

On Oct. 29, Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, clarified her position with the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT (ONC): she will still serve as director while working on the Ebola response team.

When DeSalvo announced on Oct. 24 that she was joining the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s (HHS) Ebola response team as acting assistant secretary of health, many questioned the vitality of the ONC she was leaving behind.

The American Medical Association’s (AMA) President Robert M. Wah, MD, said that with so much uncertainty surrounding meaningful use implementation and health IT interoperability, the lack of leadership would be troublesome for physicians. Tthe announcement also came on the heels of several other staff changes at the ONC.

“DeSalvo’s departure, in addition to those of several other senior staff including the deputy director of the ONC, Jacob Reider, which was also announced last week, leaves a significant leadership gap which could jeopardize the growing momentum around interoperability,” Wah said in a statement on Oct. 27.

Now that DeSalvo has announced her dual roles, Wah says he hopes that the work to fix interoperability and the meaningful use program will continue.

Lisa Lewis, who served as acting principal deputy national coordinator before DeSalvo joined ONC, will provide day-to-day leadership of the ONC, according to an ONC blog post.

It is unclear how long DeSalvo’s position with the Ebola response team will last. President Barack Obama named Ron Klain to the newly-created position of Ebola response coordinator, or Ebola czar, on Oct. 22. Media reports have been critical of Klain, who has yet to make a public appearance since being appointed.

In the midst of DeSalvo;s new responsibilities, the meaningful use program has been under scrutiny, with many questioning its effectiveness.

In an interview with Medical Economics, DeSalvo said that interoperability is the ONC’s top priority. In a white paper, ONC says that full interoperability among health IT systems will be established by 2024.

“My goal is that we set a path together and a road map so that everyone can be brought along,” she says. “At the end of 10 years, this country will have built an interconnected data and communications system. In the next three years, we have to get the basic infrastructure, the fundamentals in place.”

Between 2011 and June 2014, ONC has spent $24.6 billion to assist about 408,000 healthcare providers in adopting electronic health records systems. As of July 1, only 972 of the 2,823 eligible providers in the U.S. had attested to meaningful use 2, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data.

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