Electronic Healthcare Records , HIPAA/HITECH , Standards, Regulations & Compliance

HHS Names New Health IT Leaders

Donald Rucker, M.D., Is New National Coordinator
HHS Names New Health IT Leaders
Donald Rucker, M.D. (left) and former congressman John Fleming join HHS team.

The Department of Health and Human Services is making progress in building its new team to lead IT-related efforts, including addressing health data privacy and security matters.

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HHS has appparently named Donald Rucker, M.D., as the new national coordinator for health IT. He's listed as holding that position in a new entry to HHS' directory listing, the news site Politico pointed out in a March 31 report. But HHS declined to confirm the appointment, telling Information Security Media Group: "We are not commenting on personnel at this time."

The national coordinator position is a political appointment, which does not require Congressional confirmation.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, or ONC, sets standards and policies associated with the HITECH Act's meaningful use financial incentive program for electronic health records. That includes privacy and security related health IT certification standards and policies.

In another move, HHS recently named former congressman John Fleming, R-Louisiana, to the new position of HHS assistant deputy secretary of health technology reform. As of March 30, Fleming - who joined HHS last week - was reportedly reporting to the acting national coordinator for health IT, John White, M.D. HHS did not immediately respond to a request for more information on Fleming's role.

HHS also recently named Roger Severino new leader of its Office for Civil Rights, which enforces the HIPAA security, privacy and breach notification rules. Severino is a former civil rights attorney at the Department of Justice, and was most recently a director at the conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation.

Rucker's Background

Rucker, the new head of ONC, is a former executive at the technology company Siemens. He most recently was chief medical officer at work-site healthcare services provider Premise Health.

Rucker also previously served at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center as chief operating officer of the IDEA Studio and clinical professor of emergency medicine and biomedical informatics, according to a September 2015 statement issued by Premise Health at the time he joined that organization. Rucker is board certified in emergency medicine, internal medicine and clinical informatics.

"Dr. Rucker is a proven leader and innovator, with extensive experience in leading clinical organizations and driving disruptive innovation," Stuart Clark, CEO of Premise Health, said about Rucker when he joined the company in 2015.

Before joining Tennessee-based Premise Health, Rucker spent 13 years as chief medical officer at Siemens Healthcare, where he led the design and adoption of computerized physician order entry systems by hospitals. He also was formerly a principal at Datamedic, which offered electronic medical records software.

John Halamka, the CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Health System in Boston who formerly worked with Rucker in the emergency department at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says Rucker "is very qualified to serve in any healthcare IT role. He's balanced and thoughtful with a great deal of implementation experience."

Other HHS Moves

In another move at HHS, two advisory committees created under the HITECH Act - the health IT standards and policy committees - were disbanded on March 30.

Those committees - and their various workgroups - provided HHS, and especially ONC, recommendations for standards and policies associated with the HITECH Act's meaningful use financial incentive program for electronic health records. That included privacy and security recommendations, including the requirement for healthcare providers to conduct a periodic security risk analysis of EHR data as part of their "meaningful use" attestation to HHS.

Replacing the two legacy committees will be a new Federal Health IT Advisory Committee that's being created as called for under the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law late last year.

The new committee will have at least 25 members, most of whom will be selected by the Government Accountability Office and Congress. ONC will name three members to the committee.

GAO recently posted a request for letters of nomination for potential members of the committee; those submissions need to be made by April 14.

The 21st Century Cures Act calls for the new committee membership to "reflect providers, ancillary healthcare workers, consumers, purchasers, health plans, health information technology developers, researchers, patients, relevant federal agencies, and individuals with technical expertise on healthcare quality, system functions, privacy, security and on the electronic exchange and use of health information, including the use standards for such activity."

Halamka, who previously served for several years as co-chair of the now defunct HIT standards committee, tells ISMG that he'd "welcome the opportunity to serve [on the new] HITAC" if asked. "Advisory committees bring together a diversity of stakeholders to shape policy and technology strategy," he says. "The HIT policy committee and health IT standards committee, and now HITAC, are essential to guide federal processes."

On the top of Halamka's priority list for privacy and security issues: "We need to work on alignment of privacy laws across the country," he says.

About the Author

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Executive Editor, HealthcareInfoSecurity, ISMG

McGee is executive editor of Information Security Media Group's HealthcareInfoSecurity.com media site. She has about 30 years of IT journalism experience, with a focus on healthcare information technology issues for more than 15 years. Before joining ISMG in 2012, she was a reporter at InformationWeek magazine and news site and played a lead role in the launch of InformationWeek's healthcare IT media site.

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