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ONC health data privacy watchdog Lucia Savage arrives as interop czar Doug Fridsma leaves

Another lawyer will soon guide ONC’s privacy office.

Lucia Savage, a New York University Law School grad, will later this month succeed Joy Pritts, the Case Western Reserve-trained lawyer who left the post in mid-July after serving as ONC’s first chief privacy officer since 2011.

It certainly makes sense to have expert legal direction at the core of the government’s efforts to nudge, and push strict health data privacy protections and preserve the sanctity of patients’ health information.

For her part, Savage has more than just a legal background. She also has extensive experience in the healthcare private sector.

Most recently, she has been working in the insurance industry as senior associate general counsel at UnitedHealthcare Services, Inc., supervising a team that works in large data transactions in health information exchanges (HIEs) and other healthcare projects, ONC coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D., told staff in a letter.

Savage also spent 2011 to 2013 on the governance board of CMS’ multi-payer claims database project, working with HIE and state agencies in planning with players.

Before UnitedHealthcare, Savage was general counsel at the Pacific Business Group on Health (PBGH), one of the nation’s oldest employer healthcare purchasing coalitions.

At that San Francisco-based nonprofit, Savage used her 15 years of experience as an employee benefit lawyer in both compliance and litigation, and in healthcare regulation and reform, data transactions, and HIPAA implementation. Before joining PBGH, was Stanford University’s benefits compliance officer.

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While Savage is on her way in, another ONC-associated policy expert is on his way out.

Doug Fridsma, M.D., the agency’s chief scientist and an informatics specialist, is leaving soon to run the American Medical Informatics Association.

At the recent AHIMA (American Health Information Management Association) conference in San Diego, Fridsma spoke at length with SearchHealthIT about a broad range of issues, about which you can read in an upcoming question-and-answer series on SearchHealthIT.

In the meantime, Fridsma, who claims informatics as his true intellectual passion, is naturally sanguine about this burgeoning field’s role in health IT and healthcare delivery. He says informatics people are critical to making interoperability among disparate EHRs and other  health IT systems work effectively.

Fridsma also said that vendors in the data mining and text mining space will have leading roles in the future of health IT, a future that ONC and other players perceive as focused on interoperability.

Fridsma notes that big organizations and undertakings such as the Mayo Clinic and IBM’s Watson natural language-based artificial intelligence system already are applying informatics in a big way in the health field.

“Those who will be most successful in this will be informatics professionals who understand how medical information is related,” Fridsma told SearchHealthIT. “So the kind of associations and the kinds of insights they get have some relevance in the medical domain and diagnoses.”

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