Health IT

‘Progress will be very difficult to veer from,’ outgoing ONC chief says

Outgoing national health IT coordinator Dr. Vindell Washington is optimistic that there is no going back on interoperability. “That kind of progress will be very difficult to veer from,” he said.

National health IT coordinator Dr. Vindell Washington speaks at the Connected Health Conference, Dec. 13, 2016 at National Harbor, Maryland.

National health IT coordinator Dr. Vindell Washington speaks at the Connected Health Conference, Dec. 13, 2016 at National Harbor, Maryland.

President Barack Obama may be giving his “farewell” speech in his adopted home town of Chicago Tuesday, but Obama administration leaders are still hard at work 10 days before they cede power to Donald Trump. That is certainly true at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

“We are leaning pretty hard on the last push to the finish line,” National Coordinator Dr. Vindell Washington said in an interview this week.

Washington and other political appointees within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are trying to wrap up or at least make significant strides on three major health IT projects before they step down at the end of the day Jan. 19. Those include interoperability, public-private partnerships for public health and healthcare payment reform.

At the Connected Health Conference in December, Washington hosted a live demonstration of interoperability of medication lists, featuring some of the vendors, health systems and industry groups who signed an interoperability pledge last February. Now, at least one participant is very close to going live with the ability to pull in complete med lists from multiple sources.

“It appears that Trinity Health is about two weeks away from rolling out the Medisafe app,” Washington said. Medisafe makes a mobile app that allows users to import medication lists from many places, but finding the data has been labor-intensive to this point.

No matter what the incoming Trump administration does with healthcare and health IT policy — some have called on Trump to scrap the Meaningful Use program — Washington is optimistic that there is no going back on interoperability. “That kind of progress will be very difficult to veer from,” he said.

In public health, Washington working with others at HHS to strengthen public-private partnerships for quick mobilization in the face of emergencies like last year’s Zika outbreak. “We now have the infrastructure in place,” Washington said.

In terms of payment reform, Washington said he is hoping to make sure efforts to support value-based purchasing and outcomes reporting are as “tied up as possible” before he departs at the end of next week.

“We want to prepare for the new administration to hit the ground running,” Washington said.

Unfortunately, he has not heard from anyone on the Trump transition team. In fact, Politico reported Tuesday, Washington said he never even had anyone from either the Obama administration or the Trump team acknowledge his resignation letter.

It still is a little early for a new administration to have filled out all its positions down to the level of an office like ONC, but there have been no rumors at all about who might become national coordinator in the Trump administration.

At ONC, only Washington and Chief Privacy Officer Lucia Savage are political appointees, so the rest of the staff should remain in place. Washington said that Deputy National Coordinator Dr. Jon White will serve as acting coordinator until Trump has someone in place.

In that regard, Washington is optimistic. “We have a strong senior staff,” he said.

Photo: Neil Versel/MedCity News