Fleming to serve as deputy assistant secretary for health technology

Former Louisiana Rep. John Fleming has been tapped by the Trump administration to serve as deputy assistant secretary for health technology in the Department of Health and Human Services, according to media reports.

So far, there has been no formal announcement from HHS or the White House on the Fleming appointment, and officials were not available for comment. A spokesman for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology declined to comment on news reports about the Fleming appointment, referring a query from Health Data Management to HHS.

“Until we hear the official announcement from HHS about his appointment, there’s a lot to be determined,” says Leslie Krigstein, vice president of congressional affairs for the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives. “I haven’t heard any timeline for the release of information. There’s a lot to learn and still a lot of questions.”

Nonetheless, speculation has been rife about what Fleming’s role might be in helping to craft health IT policies in the administration. The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the newspaper that published the original story, reported that Fleming described his new role at HHS—one that he has yet to start—as being a “linchpin in finding ways to improve how physicians use technology to practice medicine.”

Former National Coordinator for HIT Karen DeSalvo, MD, who is in Louisiana and “taking some time” following her federal service, says she “had the chance to interact with Dr. Fleming and knows him to be an early adopter of health IT and interested in improving the usability of the system.”

Fleming, a physician, served as a congressman representing Louisiana's 4th Congressional District from 2009 to 2017 and reportedly worked closely in Congress with former Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who is now HHS secretary. With Fleming serving as a senior advisor to Price, Krigstein contends that health IT could potentially be a priority for the agency.

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According to Krigstein, both Fleming and Price were among 116 members of Congress who in September 2015 signed a letter asking the Obama administration to “pause” Meaningful Use Stage 3 and the 2015 Edition Certification Program.

Krigstein notes that Fleming was also co-chair of the GOP Doctors Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives and had a “willingness to be favorable to the provider community” as well as “knowing the implications of IT” for the nation’s physicians.

“As a former practicing family physician, Dr. Fleming moves into this new HHS position with real-world knowledge of how HIT impacts the physician community,” says Robert Tennant, director of health IT policy at the Medical Group Management Association.

“We look forward to working with him, Secretary Tom Price, MD, and other Department officials to ensure that policies seek to encourage cost-effective HIT adoption by physicians, facilitate efficient interoperability, and serve to improve the overall care delivery process,” adds Tennant.

Likewise, Sasha TerMaat, chair of the Electronic Health Record Association and director at Epic, congratulated Fleming on his appointment, emphasizing that EHRA “looks forward to working with him in his new role at HHS.”

For its part, CHIME hopes to work with Fleming on such HIT issues as changes to the Meaningful Use program, patient ID and interoperability, Krigstein says. “Providers know as well as anybody about the current challenges of this landscape,” she concludes.

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