Health IT office takes shape

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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology eventually will employ “less than 100, probably more like less than 50” permanent federal workers assigned to four sub-offices, Dr. David Brailer, its chief said Friday.

The organization was announced in a Federal Register notice signed by Brailer’s boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, and published Friday. The notice made creation of the unit official, although it has been functioning for more than a year as an adjunct to other offices, Brailer said.

The national coordinator’s office will have offices for health IT adoption, interoperability and standards, programs and coordination, and policy and research.

Each office will be headed by a director whom Brailer will hire after the job openings are posted.

In a conference call, Brailer told reporters that the office will remain a coordinating and strategic focal point and will never tackle the nitty-gritty work of building system interfaces or administering federal health systems. “We’re a point of convergence and a point of management,” the coordinator said.

He said he expects the sub-office directors to be subject matter experts, team leaders and educators and communicators.

He said the new office structure will take months to flesh out. “We will migrate into this structure as we staff up,” he said.

The announcement of the office establishment was a necessary step toward creation of a unit with its own staff and budget, Brailer said. Until now, lack of official status for the office has not been a hindrance, he added, but its new legitimacy will be an asset going forward.

Although health IT mavens have learned to call the office ONCHIT, the Federal Register notice said its official acronym within HHS is ONC.

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