Farzad Mostashari comments publicly on resignation as ONC head

Top federal health IT official Farzad Mostashari, M.D., to move on 'this fall,' but says the agency still 'can do big things.'

Coordinating his exit as the nation's top HIT official, Farzad Mostashari, M.D., made known his plans to resign sometime this fall after two and a half years at the helm of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) the day before presiding over two meetings broadcasted live on the Web.

Any CIO will tell you that implementing technology in the face of cultural resistance and process redesign is a monumental challenge.

Russell Branzell and George Hickman,
CHIME executives

In both of the meetings -- the first unveiling a plan to accelerate health information exchange (HIE) and care coordination, the second being the 51st regular meeting of the federal advisory HIT Policy Committee (HITPC) -- Mostashari talked publicly about his motivations for leaving ONC.

"It's been humbling to serve over the past four years in the federal government and to see the work that has taken place throughout this country in doctor's offices, hospitals, software developers [and] community organizations, all working very, very hard to move us toward a better healthcare system for patients," Mostashari said in the HIE webinar. He also praised his CMS colleagues for their public service.

Details still sketchy

The news broke Tuesday after Mostashari sent in email to ONC staff announcing his intentions. "It is difficult for me to announce that I am leaving. I don't know what I will be doing after I leave public service, but be assured that I will be by your side as we continue to battle for healthcare transformation," Mostashari wrote in the email, according to a Washington Post blog.

Sources close to Mostashari believe he plans to stay in his position until at least the end of National HIT Week, a series of events that will take place in various locations around Washington, D.C. from Sept. 16-20. He admitted in opening remarks at the HITPC meeting that he had followed his heart, calling it highly unscientific, with a laugh.

"I'm not going [anywhere] that I know of right now; it just seemed like the right time because things are going well -- I didn't want to leave if things are not going well," Mostashari said, adding he had no regrets. "We're between rule-making cycles, so there's a certain good timing there."

Instant reaction from many corners of the HIT world

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When the news first hit social media sites after word of his email got out, accolades for Mostashari and the work he accomplished since taking over for David Blumenthal, M.D., poured in on Twitter and around the blogosphere.

Few were as poignant as self-titled GE Healthcare "HIT standards geek" Keith Boone. The popular denizen of HIT social media circles wrote a tribute to the retiring national health coordinator, reflecting the ups and downs of Mostashari's job, as well as summarizing his famously "pushy" character.

Many HIT-centric organizations also immediately broadcast statements to the press regarding Mostashari's career move. The College of Health Information Management Executives CEO Russell Branzell and Board Chairman George Hickman jointly issued the following:

Any CIO will tell you that implementing technology in the face of cultural resistance and process redesign is a monumental challenge. Today's health delivery system is fundamentally different than it was five years ago when HITECH was passed, but it's not because Congress simply passed a law. It's because ONC and CMS, in partnership with the private sector, designed an implementation strategy that tried to align various stakeholders and make the spirit of HITECH a reality.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Don Fluckinger, news director, or contact @DonFluckinger on Twitter.

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