Structural reorganization announced for government health IT oversight

In a Federal Register notice effective December 1, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT announced a reorganization of its office. Among the most notable changes is the decision to create the position of Chief Privacy Officer and a supporting office within ONC to address “privacy, security, and data stewardship of electronic health information” and serve as a point of contact and coordination privacy officials in domestic and international government agencies at all levels. Privacy has long been an emphasis along with information security for the National Coordinator, with ONC releasing its Nationwide Privacy and Security Framework for Electronic Exchange of Individually Identifiable Health Information a year ago. This latest development is an explicit acknowledgment of the central position occupied by privacy and protection of individually identifiable health information in the pursuit of health IT adoption and interoperability.

Another structural shift is the creation of an Office of Economic Modeling and Analysis to apply formal economic perspectives to aspects of the health care system to help justify investment in health information technology and assess different health information technology strategies and policies intended to promote health IT adoption and use. The idea appears to be to provide more quantitative information about ways to improve health care quality and efficiency, a side benefit of which might be to help identify operational business models and value (revenue) propositions to encourage adoption of health IT, not just incentives to start using the technology.

From a more practical standpoint, the reorganization should align ONC resources to help it better manage and oversee the significant funding flowing through ONC due to the provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Specific offices within ONC will also take responsibility for scientific research, grant programs, and new health IT developments, and for program oversight, internal office management, and budgeting. The office’s operations and ONC’s continuing work on health IT standards have been elevated to the responsibility of a Deputy National Coordinator.