New EHR Czar Understands Technology Roll-Out

April 08, 2011

April 8, 2011 — The new leader of the federal agency that encourages physicians to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) knows the nitty-gritty details of acquiring the technology and getting it up and running.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced today that Farzad Mostashari, MD, will take over as National Coordinator for Health Information Technology within HHS, succeeding David Blumenthal, MD, who is returning to Harvard University to teach. In making this appointment, Sebelius promoted from within the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). Dr. Mostashari previously had been ONC deputy national coordinator for programs and policy.

Dr. Farzad Mostashari

Before joining ONC in 2009, Dr. Mostashari served in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as assistant commissioner for the Primary Care Information Project (PCIP). In that role, he helped more than 1500 clinicians in small practices, hospitals, and community health centers in underserved areas acquire EHRs, set them up, and learn how to use them.

Last November, the New York Health Department reported that the investment in digital medicine was paying clinical dividends. Participating physicians performed more preventive services after they started receiving electronic reminders to do so — testing hemoglobin A1c levels in patients with diabetes, prescribing aspirin to patients at risk for stroke, and advising smokers to quit. In addition, the percentage of patients with their blood pressure and cholesterol under control increased significantly. Likewise, more patients with diabetes got their hemoglobin A1c levels under control.

These are the kind of results the federal government is looking for in its program to give physicians 6-figure incentive payments under Medicare and Medicaid if they demonstrate "meaningful use" of EHR technology. ONC plays a major role in running this incentive program, which makes Dr. Mostashari’s hands-on experience in EHR roll-outs all the more valuable.

At the same time, the new head of ONC steps into the middle of the congressional melee over federal budget deficits. Republicans have proposed repealing the section of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — otherwise known as the economic stimulus package — that authorizes billions of dollars in EHR incentive payments to qualifying physicians and hospitals.

With today’s announcement of the appointment of Dr. Mostashari, ONC will have had 4 leaders since it was founded by President George W. Bush in 2004.

Dr. Mostashari earned a masters of science in population health at the Harvard School of Public Health and his medical degree at Yale Medical School. He completed an internal medicine residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the 2-year Epidemic Intelligence Service operated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The founder of the Bureau of Epidemiology Services in the New York City Health Department, Dr. Mostashari functioned as one of the lead investigators in the outbreaks of West Nile virus and anthrax in that city. He also is among the first developers of real-time electronic disease surveillance systems nationwide, according to HHS.

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