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Leadership upheaval continues at ONC

October 24, 2014
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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[Editor's note: See the related news story dated Oct. 29, which later changed some the ONC information presented here.]

Karen DeSalvo, MD, the head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), is leaving the ONC to serve on the national Ebola response team at the request of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. During the search for her replacement, ONC’s COO Lisa Lewis will become acting national coordinator, her second job title at ONC in the past year.

Soon after the announcement of DeSalvo’s departure, the ONC also announced that Deputy National Coordinator Jacob Reider, MD, would be stepping down as on next month. Reider, who had served as interim national coordinator when Farzad Mostashari stepped down in 2013, said his decision was tied to DeSalvo’s move.

“Karen and I worked closely on the timing of both this announcement and my departure so that there would be a good transition, strong clincial leadership at ONC and continued ONC strength on the issues that remain so important: decision support, quality improvement, health IT safety and usability,” Reider wrote in an email to the ONC, according to multiple news reports.

Reider and DeSalvo are the latest to shift from the ONC in the past 30 days. Chief Nursing Officer Judy Murphy, RN, left Oct. 17 for a leadership position at IBM, and Doug Fridsma, MD, PhD, resigned his position Sept. 22 as ONC’s chief science officer for the CEO desk at the American Medical Informatics Association. In the past six months, ONC also has lost its chief privacy officer, Joy Pritts, and its director of eHealth, Lygeia Riccardi.

These latest leadership changes have spawned concern about the future of the ONC and its focus on IT initiatives within acute and post-acute care, including quality improvement, electronic health records adoption and care transitions documentation. The ONC's 10-year roadmap for IT adoption in healthcare is one of the strongest national attempts to bridge the gaps between acute and post-acute care, a mission that had gained significant support under Mostashari's tenure at the ONC.

It is not known whether Burwell will ask DeSalvo to return to the ONC at a later point.