August 13, 2013
The sudden (and unexpected) announcement of Farzad Mostashari’s resignation from his post as national coordinator for health IT has left the industry with a lot of unanswered questions. What will Farzad do next? Who will replace him? How will this change affect health IT programs like meaningful use?
None of these questions have been answered definitively yet, though the next few months will certainly change that. At this point, the best way to squash any uncertainties is to look at how ONC has handled similar transitions in the past.
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT was established in 2004 by President George W. Bush to spur EMR adoption. The industry saw very little progression until David Blumenthal, the third ONC chief, came into the picture in 2009. Under his direction, the EHR Incentive Programs were launched (more commonly referred to as “meaningful use”) at the beginning of 2011. Due to the meaningful use program, EHR use has more than doubled since 2009.
While Blumenthal set EHR adoption in motion, it was Mostashari (who replaced Blumenthal in the fall of 2011) who skyrocketed the momentum. According to Brian Ahier of the Advanced Health Information Exchange Resources (AHIER), each man was the right person for the job at his appointed time, and there’s another perfect leader out there to lead us through the challenges of the next two years.
“Farazd stepping down is a natural evolution in the progress of the ONC,” Ahier said. “He was the perfect person to drive health IT forward at this point. With Blumenthal we had a framework built and policy development, with Mostashari there has been a strong progress in implementation—and both their personalities and skills matched those eras well.”
The transition from Blumenthal and Mostashari went as smoothly as could have been hoped. Mostashari built on the momentum Blumenthal started, and today 80 percent of hospitals and over half of office-based physicians are using an EHR.
Keeping up the momentum with a new leader will be a challenge, especially since Mostashari has led the health IT movement with such great enthusiasm and energy. Marc Probst, CIO at Intermountain Healthcare, isn’t concerned, though. “I am sad to see Farzad move on, but I am confident that a transition can occur without disrupting the progress made to date,” he said. “ONC has a strong, bright team, and although it may take a few months for a new national coordinator to gain traction, progress in HIT and meaningful use will go on.”
That seems to be the general consensus going around: that meaningful use will continue to roll forward amidst leadership shuffles. The new head will undoubtedly be a huge proponent of health IT and will do all he or she can to keep the meaningful use program afloat. It remains to be seen the extent to which the program will change under new leadership.