National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo, M.D., will continue to work on high-level policy issues at ONC despite being named Acting Assistant Secretary for Health to help with the Obama administration’s Ebola response effort.

In an effort to reassure the health IT community at large of her continued involvement in policymaking, it was announced at a Nov. 4 meeting of the HIT Policy Committee that DeSalvo will remain chair of the committee. Paul Tang, vice chair of the committee, said that she will also work with Acting National Coordinator Lisa Lewis in “guiding” ONC.

Tang made the point that development and finalization of ONC’s interoperability roadmap as well as meaningful use Stage 3 requirements is ongoing work that is “weaving its way through the clearance process and clearly has the imprint of Karen’s guidance, so that will be quite stable.”    

DeSalvo herself told the committee that although Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell has asked her to “lean in on helping with Ebola and some of the other public health issues” health IT “remains a priority for this department and the country” and is at the top of Burwell’s agenda.

“The work is not lower priority and not stopping,” DeSalvo added, saying that she will also continue to co-chair the HHS cross-departmental work on delivery system reform with Patrick Conway, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The American Medical Association recently expressed concerns that DeSalvo’s departure from ONC, in addition to those of several other senior staff including the Deputy National Coordinator for Health IT Jacob Reider, M.D., would create a “significant leadership gap which could jeopardize the growing momentum around interoperability.”

But, in a subsequent statement, AMA announced that it was “pleased to learn” that DeSalvo will remain involved at ONC. “We look forward to continuing to work with her to fix the Meaningful Use program and achieve an interoperable technology infrastructure,” said Steven Stack, M.D., AMA’s president-elect.

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