ONC in disarray? Depends on your vantage point

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT certainly appears to be an agency in disarray.

After all, not only will ONC be without its top two officials by the end of next month--with National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo named acting assistant secretary for health at HHS last week and Deputy National Coordinator Jacob Reider announcing he will head back to New York in November--the agency also has lost four other top officials. Since July, it has seen Joy Pritts, Lygeia Ricciardi, Judy Murphy and Doug Fridsma depart.

Justifiably, the provider community is worried about the repercussions. Several hospital CIOs, as well as College of Healthcare Information Management Executives President and CEO Russell Branzell, expressed concern to FierceHealthIT about what the onslaught of changes--particularly the two most recent--mean for federal health IT efforts like Meaningful Use and the push for interoperability. Remember, it was only a year ago that ONC needed to replace Farzad Mostashari and David Muntz.

Indranil Ganguly, vice president and CIO of JFK Health System in Edison, New Jersey, called the news surprising. "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 said.

Both Todd Richardson, senior VP and CIO at Wausau, Wisconsin-based Aspirus Inc., and Linda Reed, VP and CIO at Morristown, New Jersey-based Atlantic Health System, echoed Ganguly's sentiments with Richardson calling the move a "convenient fast lane out" for DeSalvo, in particular, and Reed wondering what it all means for the next stage of Meaningful Use, due out in December.

"You all [the departures] up and it leaves a pretty significant void in leadership at the most senior level," Branzell added.

What's more, American Medical Association President Robert Wah, in a statement issued this week, said the plethora of change could "jeopardize momentum around interoperability," particularly after ONC's joint Health IT Policy and Standards committee meeting in which its draft interoperability road map was revealed two weeks ago.

Still, I can't help but agree with Branzell, who also said that the exodus creates an opportunity to look at the health IT landscape with "some fresh eyes."

Consider, the Meaningful Use program has been heavily criticized of late, so much so that the AMA submitted a blueprint to refocus and revamp the effort to DeSalvo and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner on Oct. 14. Perhaps new blood will result in a new direction for the program.

I'm curious to hear your take. Do you think that the bevy of ONC leadership departures signifies a waning interest in health IT on the part of HHS? Or do they represent an opportunity for some new perspectives to be heard. - Dan (@Dan_Bowman and @FierceHealthIT)