How the ONC chief got his groove back
September 23, 2013 in Medical Technology
Outgoing ONC coordinator Farzad Mostashari, MD, talks about local vs. federal health, tech changes, ONC’s future, scaling health improvements across the nation, Blue Button’s surprising takeoff, and why ONC will only get more relevant post-HITECH funding.
“Welcome to the federal government. Check your passion at the door.”
Farzad Mostashari, MD, the outgoing national coordinator for health information technology, wrote those words down, frustrated in a meeting, shortly after arriving at ONC. His predecessor David Blumenthal, MD, and CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, steered him back toward exuberance — the characteristic for which Mostashari has become well known.
Government Health IT Editor Tom Sullivan spoke with Mostashari in his ONC office about how the difference between applying those passions at the local and federal level, his accomplishments in the mobile computing and health revolution, what the future holds for ONC, and words of wisdom for his successor.
[See also: Mostashari to step down as ONC chief.]
Q: How different was the experience of being the National Coordinator from serving as assistant commissioner at New York’s health department?
A: The Yin and Yang of local versus federal. In a city you can do an enormous amount in a very short time and be very tightly connected and coupled with the local realities but it doesn’t scale to everybody else. At the federal level what you do is incredibly impactful at scale — from Alabama to Alaska — but it’s a much more blunt instrument and there are many differences across our country which means that the relative impact is going to be smaller than what you could accomplish with that sort of concerted action at the local level. So I feel incredibly privileged to have experienced both.
Q: Have you seen anything become more significant than you would have guessed when starting at ONC?
A: Blue Button. I think it’s a game changer. The idea that through view, download, transmit you can get your own data from all your care providers and share with whoever you want to share it with. The ecosystem of apps and services on top of that data to help people manage their health, finances, chronic disease, their prevention, the gamification, social, and just the explosion in venture funding and startups in this space that’s all fueled by payment reform and oxygenated by data. That is something I had not expected to take off this quickly.
[See also: Praise rolls in for Mostashari.]
Q: What have been your greatest accomplishments promoting and advancing the broader category of mHealth?
A: First of all, I haven’t had any accomplishments here that didn’t build on or weren’t really the work done by the staff here and the broader health IT community. The first is we have, I think, stayed out of its way, let it flourish and that’s important. The second has been pointing innovators in the direction of things that matter. Because a lot of the innovators don’t really have a grasp of what the needs of the situation are. The third has been to provide a framework and consistency around security because one of the main concerns and potential stumbling blocks to mHealth is going to be if there are compromises to privacy and security.