Dr Karen B. DeSalvo Not Leaving ONC Just Yet

October 29, 2014

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) seemed to be in dire straits as its leadership slowly left for other jobs. However, despite Dr DeSalvo's new position within HHS, she will maintain her leadership position in ONC, according to a new report.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) seemed to be in dire straits as its leadership slowly left for other jobs.

In the last few months, Doug Fridsma, MD, PhD, chief scientist, and Judy Murphy, RN, chief nursing officer, both left ONC. Just last week, both Karen B. DeSalvo, MD, MPH, national coordinator, and Jacob Reider, MD, deputy national coordinator, were reportedly leaving their positions.

However, ONC has now announced that despite Dr DeSalvo’s new position within HHS, she will maintain her leadership position in ONC. Dr DeSalvo was tapped by HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to become the acting assistant secretary of health to help on public health issues, in particular Ebola response efforts.

According to a new post on HealthITBuzz, ONC’s blog, Dr DeSalvo will be a key part of the overall Ebola response strategy and will reach out to providers and other stakeholders to implement preparedness and education efforts. However, she will continue her work at ONC and remain the chair of the Health IT Policy Committee as she leads efforts on the development and finalization of the Interoperability Roadmap.

Last week, reports coming out of ONC implied that Dr DeSalvo’s new position within HHS was taking effect immediately and she was stepping down as national coordinator. Lisa Lewis, ONC’s chief operating officer, was supposed to serve as acting national coordinator. Now, ONC is reporting that Ms Lewis will simply provide day-to-day leadership as she did prior to Dr DeSalvo’s appointment as national coordinator.

“…the team that is ONC is far more than one or two leaders,” Dr DeSalvo and Ms Lewis wrote in the blog post. “The team of ONC is personified in each and every individual—all part of a steady ship and a strong and important part of HHS’ path toward delivery system reform and overall health improvement.”

The sudden departures of ONC leadership left some in the medical community concerned. The American Medical Association expressed alarm that the leadership gap at ONC could “jeopardize the growing momentum around interoperability.”

"Interoperability and data portability are critical components for transforming clinical practice and improving health outcomes,” AMA President Robert M. Wah, MD, said in a statement. He added, “Without widespread interoperability, the value proposition of [electronic health records] has not been realized and the adoption of new innovative models of care has been hindered.”

Around the Web

ONC Interoperability Roadmap Draft Unveils Guiding Principles

Dr Karen B. DeSalvo Leaves ONC for Ebola Response Team

AMA Statement on Leadership Departures from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology