HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has hired its first chief information officer as the agency shifts its focus toward improving the interoperability of electronic health-record systems.
To fill the new post, the ONC turned to Dr. Michael James McCoy, an OB-GYN with a decade of experience in healthcare IT standards development.
McCoy will report directly to ONC chief Dr. Karen DeSalvo and lead development of ONC clinical policy for standards and regulatory matters, DeSalvo said in an announcement to the ONC staff Wednesday. McCoy also will serve as “the lead clinical subject matter expert on interoperability,” DeSalvo said. He starts Jan. 26.
“He is passionate, as am I, on making effective use of interoperable healthcare IT while ensuring a person-centered health system that results in the best outcomes possible,” DeSalvo said.
McCoy, 61, has served on the international board of directors of Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise, a not-for-profit organization founded by the Radiological Society of North America and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society to promote health information interoperability.
He also has represented the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as an IT guru at multiple standards-development forums. McCoy received a bachelor's degree in biology from Georgia State University and trained to be a physician at the Medical College of Georgia.
McCoy arrives as federal health IT policymakers are shifting their attention from inducing the adoption of EHR systems by hundreds of thousands office-based physicians and thousands of hospitals to ensuring that those EHRs and providers can connect and share information with one another.
A draft of a national health IT interoperability road map, which will intertwine with the strategic plan, was discussed in October at a joint meeting of two key federal health IT advisory panels. A final version, Connecting Health and Care for the Nation: A shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap, is expected to be released soon.
What's unknown at this point is whether, or how strongly, the ONC will push for a new nationwide health IT architecture as recommended by those panels at that October meeting.
The ONC advisers made two key recommendations: The feds should encourage the use of so-called metadata tags that, proponents say, will make interoperability easier; and the government should push the use of application programming interfaces, or APIs, bits of code that would enable developers, particularly those of Web-based software systems and mobile health applications, to access data in so-called “legacy” EHRs.
Metadata tags, which contain information about the underlying data, could make it easier for researchers to find and acquire information about specific conditions. They could also help protect patient privacy by carrying links to consent directives and other restraints on data-sharing without a patient's permission. APIs, their backers say, could do for EHRs what they've done for smartphones, enabling thousands of developers to tap into their systems to create innovative new mobile applications.
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