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DeSalvo to leave ONC but will stay at HHS; Dr. Vindell Washington will take her place

Aug 13, 2016

[Modern Healthcare]

Dr. Karen DeSalvo, who had been wearing two hats at HHS, is stepping down from her role as the nation's top health information technology official.
Effective Friday, Dr. Vindell Washington, the agency's principal deputy national coordinator, will take over as head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

DeSalvo will remain at HHS as acting assistant secretary for health. She's held that role since October 2014 when she was asked to head up the federal response to the Ebola virus.

DeSalvo, who came to the ONC post in 2014 after serving as health commissioner of New Orleans, brought an extensive background in and an affinity for public health.

Both were brought into service as the ONC transitioned from an agency whose principal task had been to oversee the healthcare industry's adoption of electronic health records to one promoting the interoperability of networks to support population health management under value-based payment models.
She'll leave the ONC without full, nationwide EHR interoperability having been achieved, but with significant advancements having been made.

Last year, she set a national interoperability goal for all providers to be able to exchange a core set of patient data by the end of 2017.

“Karen has served tirelessly as the national coordinator since joining the department,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell in a statement. “Under her leadership, ONC has advanced interoperability across the health system – which underpins progress on a wide range of department and administration priorities."

Burwell also touted DeSalvo's work to protect patient privacy while encouraging healthcare organizations to share data.

"During her tenure, ONC has worked with other federal partners and the private sector to update the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan and develop a Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap, both of which chart a person-centered path for improving health outcomes by unlocking health data through tools like open application programming interfaces," Burwell said.

DeSalvo has been named twice on Modern Healthcare's annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare, once in the Top 25 Women in Healthcare, and three times on the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives and Leaders.

Her successor has helped develop the Precision Medicine initiative and programs aimed at reforming the way the country's healthcare is paid for and delivered, Burwell said.

In his capacity as national coordinator, Washington will continue to lead the administration's efforts to leverage health information technology to reform how we pay for and deliver care, she added.

He will oversee implementation of both the strategic plan and the interoperability roadmap “to unlock digital health data and ensure it is widely accessible, usable, and transferable throughout the public and private sectors,” Burwell said.