ONC taps Karen DeSalvo as next National Coordinator

In an email sent to staff at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services this morning, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that Karen DeSalvo (pictured), who currently serves as the City of New Orleans Health Commissioner and Senior Health Policy Advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, will be the next National Coordinator for Health IT.

DeSalvo succeeds Acting National Coordinator Jacob Reider, who replaced Farzad Mostashari, who resigned from ONC in October after having served as National Coordinator since April 2011. DeSalvo will begin serving in her new role on Monday, January 13.

"During her tenure, Dr. DeSalvo has been at the forefront of efforts to modernize the New Orleans healthcare system," Sebelius said in the email. "Following Hurricane Katrina, for example, she led projects to increase access to care by augmenting the city's neighborhood-based medical homes for low income, uninsured and other vulnerable populations in the New Orleans area."

DeSalvo, Sebelius noted, has increasingly prioritized the use of health IT in efforts to improve care in the city. "Further," Sebelius said, "she has led the planning and construction of the city's newest public hospital, which will have a fully-integrated HIT network."

"It appears she follows in the tradition of Dr. [David] Blumenthal and Dr. Mostashari of being more policy focused than technology centric," John Halamka, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and a FierceHealthIT Editorial Advisory Board member, told FierceHealthIT in an email today. 

He added that DeSalvo's challenge will be to "balance the regulatory burden" of all of the various looming federal mandates--HIPAA, the Affordable Care Act, Meaningful Use Stage 2 and ICD-10--"all of which have 2013-2014 requirements."

In a note to ONC staff, Reider said that DeSalvo's experience "is a perfect fit for ONC's role of using health IT to improve the healthcare system nationwide."

Added Reider, who compared his time as Acting National Coordinator to a baseball player called upon to play multiple positions in a pinch: "As my tenure as your National Coordinator is now drawing to a close, I will return to the outfield where I am proud to serve as your Chief Medical Officer, and continue to work hard with you.  We have a great team, great mission-driven people, and an incredible opportunity to change our world for the better."

Among ONC-watchers, DeSalvo was not on the radar as a potential replacement for Mostashari. In a poll of FierceHealthIT readers conducted in August, for example, most felt that either Halamka or Judy Murphy, deputy national coordinator for programs and policy at ONC, would serve as the next National Coordinator.

To learn more:
- here's Sebelius' letter
- read Jacob Reider's note

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