Mostashari’s poignant letter to ONC’ers

August 7, 2013 in Medical Technology

HHS recently announced ONC chief Farzad Mostashari would leave his post come fall. At about the same time, Mostashari wrote his staff this letter:

My Dear ONC’ers,

On a pre-dawn morning in June 2009, I paced helplessly outside my Mom’s hospital room as alarms beeped and the monitor showed the most recent run of life-threatening heart arrhythmia. I had screwed up my courage to ask to see the paper chart, but I couldn’t even read the cardiology consult’s name. After her discharge it was also very difficult to get her records; she didn’t get needed follow-up and required emergency surgery. The complications, which weren’t supposed to happen, indecently increased the hospital’s revenue.

I joined ONC a week later.  This office had a daunting task ahead of it. Working backwards from the outcomes we hoped to enable, we had to define “Meaningful Use” of electronic health records, establish a new certification program, endorse national standards, design and set up a slew of new grant programs to assist in health IT adoption, exchange, workforce, research, and privacy.  There were 32 staff members.

[See also: Thank you, Farzad.]

You will remember the successive sprints – to recruit and establish the Regional Extension Centers and collaborate with newly appointed Health IT coordinators in every state.  The “Office of No Christmas” moniker that we earned for yuletide rulemaking. Trudging 4 miles through the blizzard–to a hotel that still had power– for Beacon application reviews.

And then came an intense focus on implementation and integrity of our grant programs. Accelerating consensus around healthcare standards through an innovative new open source community paradigm in the Direct Project and its successor Standards and Interoperability Framework. Coordinating policy with our federal partners.  Adding a new focus on consumer eHealth, and giving consumers access to their own data through the Blue Button. Creating a Health IT safety program.

We gradually assembled within ONC a microcosm of the diverse and passionate Health IT community itself.  Implementers, doctors and nurses, software developers and project managers, privacy experts, proud standards geeks, patient advocates, public health workers, researchers and data analysts. And we added strength, integrity and resilience by recruiting a core of civil servants who are dedicated to lifelong public service.

You each brought to ONC your own personal commitments and your community’s perspectives, and we unified those divisions through our shared goals: A better health system– that truly knows and cares for all of its patients- through application of information and learning. You nurtured a culture of commitment to American innovation, and an essential optimism that healthcare’s best days are ahead of us.

[See also:


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