Hospital CIOs: ONC leadership exodus raises questions about federal HIT priorities

Hospital CIOs expressed concern that the sudden announced departures of National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo and Deputy National Coordinator Jacob Reider potentially leave federal health IT efforts in limbo.

Indranil Ganguly (pictured right), vice president and CIO of JFK Health System in Edison, New Jersey, called the news surprising, and was intrigued by DeSalvo's shift, in particular.

"Dr. DeSalvo's leaving to take a role in the Ebola response over continuing to drive the nation's health IT agenda raises interesting questions about the administration's view of the value of health IT," Ganguly told FierceHealthIT in an email.

Todd Richardson (pictured left), senior VP and CIO at Wausau, Wisconsin-based Aspirus Inc., agreed, saying the move seemed like "a convenient fast lane out."

Linda Reed, VP and CIO at Morristown, New Jersey-based Atlantic Health System, said the move creates uncertainty about the future of the Meaningful Use program.

"What does this mean for Stage 3?" Reed told FierceHealthIT via email. "Will this send any kind of slow-down message to the health IT vendors? The whole Direct messaging thing is such a mess; who is going to address that?"

To that end, Reed (pictured right) called ONC's choice of Lisa Lewis--a non-physician--as Acting National Coordinator "interesting."

Russell Branzell, president and CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, which represents hospital CIOs, also expressed concern to FierceHealthIT in a phone conversation over the moves, particularly in light of the other recent high-profile departures from ONC.

"So many great leaders over the last year" have left, Branzell said. "Between Farzad [Mostashari], David Muntz, Judy Murphy, Doug Fridsma, and now Jacob Reider and Karen DeSalvo--you add all of that up and it leaves a pretty significant void in leadership at the most senior level."

However, Branzell (pictured left) stressed that the shakeup also creates a good opportunity to take a look at industry issues with some fresh eyes and a different perspective.

"If they bring the right people in--hopefully from the industry and not from their government service--then we think there's some great opportunity to make some needed changes and big impact," Branzell said.

He added that what he and CHIME leadership would like to see is someone with mostly provider experience, but not necessarily just a physician.

"We'd like to see somebody who has worked in the healthcare sector, whether it's in IT leadership, nursing informatics leadership or physician informatics leadership; someone who's been in the trenches and has actually experienced the difficulties of doing this and understanding things from our perspective."

It "wouldn't hurt" to have some vendor experience, as well, Branzell said.

Branzell believes the leadership exodus has more to do with the approaching end of an administrative period than a change in federal priorities. Still, he said, Meaningful Use is a federal law.

"We have a program that is legislated and needs to continue," said Branzell, who hopes to see new permanent leadership in place within six months. "We need to ensure that our government leaders put the appropriate resources in place for us to be successful."