ONC privacy chief Lucia Savage excited, focused for task ahead

The healthcare industry has recently shown concern over the repercussions of the leadership exodus from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. Lucia Savage, the new chief privacy officer, however, said there is "a lot of excitement and focus" at the agency on moving beyond just adoption of technology to more effectively harnessing technology to improve patient outcomes.

The first item on her agenda, she said in an interview with HealthcareInfoSecurity.com, is to understand how work already in progress is relevant for the interoperability roadmap to push it forward.

"For example, we've done work on data segmentation and you may say that's for technical people. But actually data segmentation is a really key part of not only our standards of interoperability, but how we'll achieve privacy compliance in an computational environment," she said.

The biggest hurdle to secure information exchange, she said, is that it's so complex.

"If we could figure out how to simplify what we say when we're explaining privacy to people and how to achieve security, then I think we'll find those things happen organically," she said.

She also cited the rules environment as a the bigger challenge than technology. 

"Remember HIPAA is the floor; states can and do enact their own privacy rules. Some states have set up particular rules that apply to information exchange, others have rules that apply to types of information that we may need to have exchanged to get to better outcomes for the patient. … I think you'll be hearing more about that as we get into our interoperability roadmap. What's technology, what's policy and which ones do we need to change?" she said.

Savage, previously senior associate general counsel at United Healthcare, took the post at ONC in October. She replaced Joy Pitts who left in July. The agency also has lost Lygeia Ricciardi, Judy Murphy and Doug Fridsma, and Deputy National Coordinator Jacob Reider is due to leave in late November. National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, originally announced also to be leaving, will "maintain her leadership of ONC," the agency said, but is also taking on other responsibilities in the Health and Human Services Department.

Those recent shakeups at the ONC have lead to some uneasiness among health IT leaders about the state of the agency. 

American Medical Association President Robert Wah warning that the flurry of change could jeopardize momentum around interoperability.

To learn more:
- find the interview