ONC's Karen DeSalvo meets the press

National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo answered the question on everyone's mind this morning: When will healthcare providers get more detail about today's announcement that CMS will make it easier for them to attain Meaningful Use hardship exemptions?

But DeSalvo (pictured right) also talked about a range of other issues, including regional extension centers, physician engagement and EHR certification when she met with reporters this morning at the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Orlanda, Fla. 

First, DeSalvo said specifics of a more "flexible" hardship exemption for providers struggling to reach Meaningful Use Stage 2 will be made available "in a few days." 

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, who announced the new hardship exemption flexibility, also made crystal clear that the deadline for Stage 2 remains firm.

>>RELATED: CMS to be more flexible with Meaningful Use Stage 2 hardship exemptions

"Where we are with Meaning Use Stage 2 is that there is a hardship exemption, it's available for folks and I want people to know that," DeSalvo said. "CMS is committed to being flexible around hardship the exemption, it's not narrow--we know there's situations that workflows couldn't be completed."

Nora Super, director of public affairs at ONC, said to watch the CMS email list-serv for specific announcements coming soon.

Then, DeSalvo answered other questions from reporters in a brief session after the keynote. Some highlights:

  • On regional extension centers (RECs) continuing to operate and receive funding: ONC is talking to the Health Resources Service Agency (HRSA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on broadband access and continued programs. "I'm a fan and a supporter and I'm trying to sort out whatever I can do to see that that kind of support continues," DeSalvo said. "Our work isn't done--we don't quite understand how to do delivery right yet… we've got to decide that on the ground."
  • On vendors that are having trouble attaining 2014 EHR certification: "I think going forward, that's a part of the puzzle we want to make sure we get right. Lots of folks are on the cusp ... there's some work that's right about to get out of the gate," she said.
  • On patient-generated data and its efficacy, safety and use: DeSalvo recalled her days as a physician, saying her patients would bring logs of their self-care in spiral-bound notebooks to appointments. But with technology, there's provenance issues--questions of where the data comes from and whether it is accurate. She pointed to the Veterans Administration as a model for using patient-generated data and highlighting outlier data. "Having lots of data is great, what you need is information that's actionable," she said.
  • On health IT workforce development: DeSalvo said she would have liked to have seen more trainees at the show. "I met a few young people, but I'd very much like us to get serious about thinking through the workforce development piece, for professionals and otherwise, not just for folks who have been practicing medicine and want to move over to the HIT side, but also to make [health IT] more of a universal precautions approach," she said. 
  • On innovation: "I would love to see that we put more front and center some of the smaller innovative approaches to solving challenges," DeSalvo said. She called the HIMSS14 interoperability showcase "energizing" and added: "We need to make space not just in the regulatory framework and in business, but literally at the conference, so [these solutions] are visable and prioritized.
  • On physician engagement and the ONC: DeSalvo recognized doctors' complaints about having to spend too much time sitting in front of computer screens. "We want to allow the joy of medicine," she said, and not lengthen doctors' workloads and disrupt their workflows. The challenge doesn't have to be solved by vendor products, she said, and what is captured and stored by software must be intuitive and meet the needs of clinical practice because "it's a saving lives thing."

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