Industry support lines up behind Rucker as ONC head

As top organizations await a formal announcement by HHS, top HIT groups laud his experience both in the vendor community and on providers’ front lines of care.

Provider group reaction was strongly supportive of the selection of Donald Rucker, MD, to lead the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

The appointment was not formally announced by the Department of Health and Human Services, but a directory listing HHS employees on Friday was found to include Rucker’s contact information, and a chorus of industry groups and former ONC heads also echoed congratulations to Rucker on his selection for the role.

Also See: Rucker takes helm at ONC as national coordinator for health IT

Rucker has a solid background in leading IT efforts, playing leadership roles in information technology companies, as well as providing care as a clinician at hospitals.

He has practiced emergency medicine at Kaiser in California; Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where he was the first full-time emergency department attending physician; and at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Presbyterian and Pennsylvania Hospitals.

“Don and I have been colleagues for 20 years,” says John Halamka, chief information officer at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “He’s a former BIDMC emergency medicine physician. He’s thoughtful, humble and understands the real-world challenges we face every day…a great choice” for the position.

Rucker comes to the ONC post from Premise Health, where he has served as chief medical officer and a consultant since September 2015. Premise Health is a worksite health and patient engagement company, and in its announcement of Rucker’s new role with the company, it said he would “work to advance the company’s focus on clinical quality, innovation and the patient experience.”

In recent years, Rucker has also served as adjunct faculty at The Ohio State University’s College of Medicine and previously served at its Wexner Medical Center as chief operating officer of the IDEA Studio and clinical professor of emergency medicine and biomedical informatics.

Before that, Rucker had a 13-year stint at Siemens Healthcare USA, where he rose to the role of vice president and chief medical officer.

John Glaser, currently senior vice president for population health at Cerner, was CEO at Siemens Health Services during Rucker's career there, and lauded his choice for the ONC role. "Don has a diverse and extensive career in healthcare information technology," Glaser says. "He has deep knowledge of the care practice, technology and policy challenges we face as we advance the ability of the technology to improve health and healthcare."

Healthcare IT industry groups also were quick to praise Rucker’s selection.

The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives said it is committed to working with the Trump administration and Congress in addressing the future of Meaningful Use, improving interoperability and optimizing health IT to improve patient care.

“Beyond his work at Siemens, Rucker has a provider background as well, having won the HIMSS Davies Award in 2003 for his work at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Understanding health IT from both the vendor and provider perspective should serve him well as head of ONC, especially since ONC oversees EHR certification,” says Matthew Weinstock, director of communications at CHIME. “We are pleased to see the administration rounding out its health IT policy team,” he added, noting that Rucker’s appointment comes on the heels of reports that John Fleming, a former U.S. representative, will serve as deputy assistant secretary for health technology.

Rucker’s experience on both the provider and vendor side is expected to pay dividends as the nation aims to use IT to improve care delivery, says Doug Fridsma, MD, president and CEO of the American Medical Informatics Association.

“AMIA is glad to see an exceptionally qualified informatician join the ONC team,” Fridsma adds. “Our evolving healthcare system will require professionals who understand how to collect, analyze and apply data so that we can turn that data into knowledge, and knowledge into action. Given Dr. Rucker’s background and experience, we are confident he understands the challenges that lie ahead, and the role informatics can play, in this next stage of health IT. “

Rucker’s wide experience will help him take an impartial look at the role ONC can and should play in the continued effort to encourage the effective use of healthcare IT in the country, says Joel White, senior advisor to Health IT Now, a group that has voiced concern about the focus of ONC’s efforts in overseeing HIT.

“Since the start of the year, Health IT Now has encouraged a much-needed conversation about upping the game around ONC’s role in reducing physician and hospital burdens, lowering costs and improving patient outcomes," said White. "I am hopeful Dr. Rucker will use every statutory authority at his disposal to eliminate information blocking while allowing private innovation to thrive. This should start with an evaluation of the role the Office of the National Coordinator plays, with a sharp focus on reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens on technology developers and healthcare providers alike.”

Other groups expressed willingness to work with Rucker on further development and use of digital capabilities by the nation’s healthcare providers.

“We congratulate Dr. Rucker on his appointment as national coordinator for health IT,” says Sasha TerMaat, chair of the Electronic Health Records Association and a director at Epic. “Some of (EHRA’s) members have worked with him during his years in the health IT developer industry, and we have great confidence in his understanding of the intersection of well-designed and deployed EHRs and high-quality patient care. We look forward to working with him in his new role.”

“Dr. Rucker brings to the position of National Coordinator a broad array of health information technology expertise,” notes Robert Tennant, director of HIT policy for the Medical Group Management Association. “As a former ER physician, he understands firsthand the critical role technology plays in the care delivery process. He also can incorporate the vendor perspective into HIT policy making, owing to his tenure with Siemens.

“Dr. Rucker is also a former participant with the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology, invaluable experience he will need as he seeks to implement the EHR provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act and revitalize the HIT certification environment,” Tennant adds. “We look forward to working with the new National Coordinator and his staff to ensure that physician practice acquisition and optimization of heath technology is done effectively and efficiently.”

“Dr. Rucker’s background as an ER physician and his involvement with CCHIT as part of the early EHR certification efforts demonstrate the importance of standards and working with the private sector,” notes Lee Barrett, executive director of the Electronic Health Network Accreditation Commission. “With Dr. Rucker’s appointment, we are supportive of ONC’s efforts to implement the EHR provisions of the CURES Act, perhaps retool the HIT certification process, continue implementation of the Interoperability Roadmap and continuation with the private sector to collaborate to leverage standards and frameworks such as that of EHNAC and others to assist in achieving the level of stakeholder trust for the healthcare ecosystem.”

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