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Karen DeSalvo, M.D., out as ONC national coordinator to focus on HHS

In the waning days of the administration, ONC national coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D., leaves ONC to focus full time on her other post as acting assistant HHS secretary for health.

With the final months of the Obama administration winding down, Karen DeSalvo, M.D., stepped down as ONC national coordinator, the government's top health IT post, to focus solely on the other job she has held for nearly two years: acting assistant HHS secretary for health.

DeSalvo, a trained internist who rose to prominence during Hurricane Katrina as New Orleans public health commissioner, was appointed to run the U.S. Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in January 2014.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell tapped DeSalvo in October 2014 during the Ebola virus crisis for the acting HHS post. DeSalvo briefly left the ONC national coordinator job but returned a few weeks later and continued to serve in both positions.

To replace DeSalvo as ONC national coordinator, Burwell named Vindell Washington, M.D., formerly principal deputy national coordinator.

Karen DeSalvo, M.D.Karen DeSalvo, M.D.

"Under her leadership, ONC has advanced interoperability across the health system -- which underpins progress on a wide range of department and administration priorities," Burwell said of DeSalvo in a prepared statement. "She has also made significant advances to the Health Information Technology Certification Program to promote and expand the safe and secure flow of electronic health information when and where it matters most for individuals and clinicians."

Under DeSalvo, ONC developed the Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap, campaigned against the alleged practice of information blocking and presided over a series of changes to the meaningful use program, including returning to a 90-day attestation period.

ONC's Health IT Certification Program includes the 2015 Edition Final Rule, which requires EHR vendors to document the use of open APIs and disclose any features that inhibit the exchange of health data.

Russell Branzell, president and CEO of the College of Health Information Management Executives, said in a release that DeSalvo "has been instrumental in advancing adoption of health information technology and making interoperability and health information exchange a national priority."

In an interview with SearchHealthIT in September 2014, just before she left ONC the first time, DeSalvo said, "I'm a political appointee and I'm going to walk out the door eventually, even if the next president keeps me.

"This administration and this president really understand health IT," she added. "But I absolutely believe that health IT is bipartisan. What I see evolving is a technology policy framework that gets us beyond EHRs."

Washington, meanwhile, worked on HHS and ONC initiatives involving healthcare delivery reform, precision medicine and the opioid crisis, Burwell said.

In a recent interview with SearchHealthIT, Washington talked about the importance of data analytics in health IT.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find an organization that's not looking at data and trying to do outcomes measurements," he said in the interview. "A large part [is] based on kind of a pivot that's happened in the payment arena and the quality folks have pushed really hard for."

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