A physician who worked previously at the New York City health department, Mostashari served as the assistant commissioner for the Primary Care Information Project. In that role, he oversaw the adoption of prevention-oriented health information technology by more than 1,500 providers in underserved communities. He was also one of the lead investigators in the outbreaks of the West Nile Virus and anthrax in New York City. (Please see reporter Joseph Conn's interview with Mostashari from this year's HIMSS conference.)
I noted from his biography that Mostashari is also an alum of the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service, a two-year, post-graduate program that was established 60 years ago for hands-on learning on the practice of applied epidemiology, the study and detection of diseases. It's a significant program that has studied a wide range of issues, including a 2010 community-wide assessment of the health effects and public health emergency response after extended disruption of drinking-water service during an extreme winter freeze in Alabama. It also investigated cases of the deadly HIN1 virus in multiple states two years ago.
This very methodical approach to science and medicine, I think, will undoubtedly be useful as Mostashari leads the massive health IT implementation efforts already taking place nationwide. And I noticed that although Mostashari repeated some of the same clichés and catchphrases that most government types use—“eye on the prize,” “wind at our backs,” etc.—he had specific information to support those platitudes. Take, for instance, his response to Bennett's concerns regarding privacy and confidentiality. While Bennett was discussing the importance of these issues, Mostashari was fastidiously taking notes before he gave a litany of answers to describe how to address those issues. The goal, he said, should be “for the information to follow the patient,” although providers can be flexible in how they achieve that goal.
After the event, I asked Dr. Mostashari how his experience in the EIS program has shaped both his problem-solving skills and leadership style. Even then, he acted as an epidemiologist, taking at least a full minute to form a thoughtful response.
“I think it was the insight that no matter whether you're a patient, a physician, a health plan or in that case, a health department, you need timely information for decision-making….I think that essential insight—that electronic information could be turned into actionable prompts, actionable visualizations has been something that has followed me through from the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service all the way through today.”
Here's hoping that Mostashari's experience—and his thoughtful, reflective approach to answering questions—indicates how he will lead one of the healthcare industry's most endeavors in the 21st century.
You can now follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter @MHjzigmond.