ONC reorganizes, announces $235M for EMR 'beacon' communities

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is reorganizing in preparation for the federal EMR stimulus program and to be more of a watchdog on privacy issues. Notably, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is creating the role of chief privacy officer. This person, whom Sebelius will appoint, will advise the national coordinator on issues of privacy, security and data stewardship, as well as coordinate efforts among federal agencies, states, regional authorities and even other countries.

Additionally, the four existing ONC focus areas of health IT adoption, interoperability and standards, programs and coordination, and policy and research are being supplanted.

A new Office of Economic Modeling and Analysis replaces the previous focus on health IT adoption, and among its tasks will be the quantification of cost savings from greater use of EMRs. The Office of the Chief Scientist will evaluate health IT grant programs, track innovations in health IT and help develop informatics education programs. The Office of the Deputy National Coordinator for Programs and Policy will oversee HHS grants that promote meaningful use of health IT for the purpose of improving personal and population health. And the Office of the Deputy National Coordinator for Operations will support ONC programs with budgeting operations, contract management and financial planning activities.

Meanwhile, national coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal, in the latest of a series of public letters, announced that HHS was making available $235 million in funding for the Beacon Community Program to help communities at the forefront of EMR adoption and health information exchange move to "a new level of health care quality and efficiency." The 15 communities, not yet selected, are intended to serve as examples for the country to follow.

To learn more about these developments:
- see the reorganization notice in the Federal Register
- check out this Government Health IT story
- read Blumenthal's letter about the Beacon Community Program