The 7 national coordinators of ONC

Published
  • April 04 2017, 6:45am EDT
President George Bush created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology on April 27, 2004. At that time, Bush called for the widespread use of electronic health records in 10 years. Since then, the office has been instrumental in setting the foundation for the adoption of electronic health records and other digital technology.

The position of the national coordinator was created through an executive order in 2004, then legislatively mandated through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. Since its beginnings, ONC has been led by coordinators who each have contributed crucial skills at important junctures in the push to improve adoption of EHRs.

President George Bush created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology on April 27, 2004. At that time, Bush called for the widespread use of electronic health records in 10 years. Since then, the office has been instrumental in setting the foundation for the adoption interoperable EHRs.

The position of the national coordinator was created through an executive order in 2004, then legislatively mandated through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. Since its beginnings, ONC has been led by coordinators who each have contributed crucial skills at important junctures in the push to improve adoption of EHRs.

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services appeared ready to introduce Donald Rucker, MD, as the latest national coordinator for the office. Here are the seven individuals who have led ONC.

David Brailer, MD

Dates of Service: May 30, 2004 to May 19, 2006

Brailer came from a unique background, having a medical degree, business and economics education and background, and the DNA of an entrepreneur. As the first ONC coordinator, he laid the groundwork for a vision of the role that the extensive use of EHRs could play in the modernization of healthcare.

Under Brailer, ONC published the “Strategic Framework: The Decade of Health Information Technology: Delivering Consumer-centric and Information-rich Health Care” and strategies were developed. A federal advisory committee was formed in July 2005 and called the American Health Information Community (AHIC).

Brailer is now managing partner and CEO of Health Evolution Partners, and serves on several boards of directors.

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Robert Kolodner, MD

Dates of Service: April 29, 2007 to January 4, 2009

Kolodner served as interim leader for a year after Brailer left before officially appointed in April 2007 to the position of coordinator. Kolodner came to the position after serving in various health IT roles at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the last being chief health informatics officer for the agency.

During his time as national coordinator for ONC, Kolodner continued development, maintenance and direction of the implementation of the nation’s health IT strategic plan. Also, under Kolodner’s direction, ONC hired the National Alliance for Health Information Technology (NAHIT) to create consensus health IT definitions for the terms EMR, EHR, PHR, HIE and RHIO.

Since leaving ONC, Kolodner is in multiple roles. He is president of Collaborative Transformations; executive vice president and chief health informatics officer at Open Health Tools; and vice president and chief medical officer at ViTel Net.

David Blumenthal, MD

Dates of Service: April 20, 2009 to April 7, 2011

Soon after the departure of Robert Kolodner, the HIT agency went in a slightly different direction with the selection of David Blumenthal to the post. Blumenthal came to the role with a strong resume of research. Before the ONC post, Blumenthal was a practicing primary care physician, director of the Institute for Health Policy, and professor of medicine and health policy at Massachusetts General Hospital/Partners Healthcare System and Harvard Medical School.

He played a key role in implementing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which would create an incentive program that would encourage hospitals and eligible professionals to implement electronic health records. Under his leadership, AHIC was replaced by two advisory committees, the HIT Policy Committee and HIT Standards Committee.

Since leaving ONC, Blumenthal became president of The Commonwealth Fund, a national philanthropy engaged in independent research on health and social policy issues.

Farzad Mostashari, MD

Dates of Service: April 8 2011 to October 5, 2013

The selection of Farzad Mostashari represented a change in leadership styles from the quiet and reserved leadership provided by David Blumenthal. Mostashari was comfortable in the spotlight, famous for his bow tie and personable style. Mostashari came to the role after a nearly five-year stint as assistant commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Mostashari oversaw the beginning of the program that rewarded providers for the meaningful use of electronic health records. He also began the shift in defining how EHRs could begin to make a difference in care delivery, with the aim of improving care for patients.

After leaving the post, Mostashari briefly became a visiting fellow at The Brookings Institute, where he focused on healthcare payment reform and helping independent practices with care transformation. In June 2014, he founded Aledade Inc., and now leads the company as its CEO.

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Karen DeSalvo, MD

Dates of Service: January 12, 2014 to August 12, 2016

After the departure of Farzad Mostashari, Karen DeSalvo was named to the top ONC position. Her background included a long stint as vice dean for community affairs and health policy at Tulane University School of Medicine and Health Commissioner for the City of New Orleans, and Senior Health Policy Advisor to New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu, from 2011 to 2014. While there, she transformed the outmoded health department to one that has since achieved national accreditation and recognition, and restored healthcare to devastated areas of the city, including leading the establishment of a public hospital.

Under her leadership, ONC advanced interoperability across the health system. She also made significant advances to the Health Information Technology Certification Program to promote and expand the safe and secure flow of electronic health information when and where it matters most for individuals and clinicians. During her tenure, ONC worked with other federal partners and the private sector to update the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan and develop a Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap.

She became acting Assistant Secretary for Health, where she will oversee 12 core public health offices, including the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, as well as 10 regional health offices across the nation and 10 Presidential and Secretarial advisory committees. The office is charged with leadership in developing policy recommendations as they pertain to public health issues that cut across HHS agencies and operating divisions.

Vindell Washington, MD

Dates of Service: August 15, 2016 to January 20, 2017

Washington had been with ONC since January 2016 as principal deputy national coordinator; he thus became the first national coordinator who ascended to the role with experience within the agency. Effective August 15, Washington took the reins at the agency; he resigned effective January 20, with the changing in the guard in the White House to the Trump administration.

Washington continued ongoing efforts within ONC to push agendas to improve the interoperability of healthcare information and access by patients to their own health data.

Prior to joining ONC, Washington served as the President of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady (FMOL) Health System Medical Group and as the health system’s Chief Medical Information Officer. The FMOL Health System is headquartered in Baton Rouge and has five acute care hospitals and affiliated facilities located throughout Louisiana provide care to 40 percent of the state’s population.

Donald Rucker, MD

News of Donald Rucker's ascendancy to the post appeared on March 31, with his name listed in an employee directory of the Department of Health and Human Services.

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.

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. 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.

“He has participated in our Health IT Policy work during my tenure, but I haven’t worked directly with him,” said Karen DeSalvo, a former ONC head. “His background certainly seems to make him well qualified, and I am excited that the ONC team will have a leader so early in the Administration so they can press on with their important work.”