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Healthcare executives, IT organizations express high hopes for ONC chief Donald Rucker

HIMSS, CHIME and many high-ranking healthcare executives expect big things from a leader they see as highly qualified.

Bernie Monegain, Editor, Healthcare IT News

Healthcare IT leaders and several influential technology organizations are giving new Office of the National Coordinator for Healthcare Information Technology chief Donald Rucker a big thumbs up.

"As a physician informaticist with experience in the commercial developer space, Dr. Rucker brings a complementary expertise and perspective that is suited for this next phase – improving health outcomes and bringing back the joy in the practice of medicine," said Paul Tang, MD, vice president and chief health transformation officer at IBM Watson Health. Tang has served as vice chair of the Health Information Technology Policy Committee until it was disbanded March 30.

Though the choice of Rucker to lead the ONC has yet to be confirmed by HHS, he is listed in that slot in the HHS employee directory.

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Rucker, a former executive at Siemens, served as the chief medical officer for 13 years. He also spent 13 years as clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at University of Pennsylvania Health System.

[Also: Donald Rucker named new national coordinator at ONC]

Over his career, Rucker has been an emergency room doctor, internal medicine physician, a clinical informatics expert, an inventor, a designer and researcher and innovator. Over the past four years, he was a professor at Ohio State University, where he taught clinical Emergency Medicine and Biomedical Informatics. He was also the 2003 recipient of the HIMSS Nicholas Davies Award for his work at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

"Donald Rucker has an extensive background in healthcare and health IT," CHIME spokesman Matthew Weinstock, said in a statement. "That experience on the provider and vendor side should serve him well at ONC given the agency's role in meaningful use, especially creating EHR certification rules. As we move into the next critical stages of assessing the Meaningful Use Program, we are pleased to see the administration rounding out its health IT policy team."

Rucker's appointment comes after John Fleming, a former U.S. representative, was picked as deputy assistant secretary for health technology.

John Glaser, senior vice president of Population Health at Cerner, who, in the early days of the office, spent several months as an advisor to ONC, said Rucker has his work cut out for him.

"We have challenges to address in areas such as interoperability, usability, EHR safety, coherence of quality measures, and engaging consumers," he said.

[Also: ONC retires two committees; Fleming will report to ONC chief]

He sees Rucker as having an opportunity "to bring the industry together and outline a focused agenda; an agenda that has the support of HHS, Congress and the industry. This role also has a strong ambassador nature to it; hence outreach is crucial," he said.

HIMSS also lauded Rucker, but declined to comment on its expectations for him until an official announcement is made.

"HIMSS was happy to host Dr. Rucker at HIMSS17 and the Physicians Symposium. During the many years of interacting with Dr. Rucker, we have found him to be thoughtful, extremely knowledgeable, and well informed on a broad range of health IT issues, including interoperability, standards, and the health IT user experience," HIMSS said in a statement. "Once his position has been officially confirmed, we will look forward to sharing our thoughts and further comments on Dr. Rucker and the ONC."

However, David Muntz, principal at healthcare IT consulting firm StarBridge Advisors, and former Principal Deputy Director of the ONC, has high hopes.

"Dr. Rucker brings a powerful combination of experiences as a provider, developer in the vendor community, and most recently as an educator in informatics," Muntz said. "He should be able to balance practicality, policy, and programs that will advance HIT pragmatically."

Muntz said he hopes Rucker will broaden ONC's focus beyond EHRs, to all of HIT and better coordinate the wide array of HIT activities around the agency's purview.

"I'd like to see him partner with the private sector to promote interoperability, encourage discussions about a national health safety identifier, pause MU3 indefinitely while implementing a 90-day reporting period in 2017, and move forward aggressively on coordinating efforts, related to safety."

The Personalized Medicine Coalition, which includes more than 220 institutional members from every sector of the health care system, also offered its endorsement of Rucker.

"As the architect of several health IT systems and a former clinician, Dr. Rucker is well-positioned to support health systems across the country as they work to deliver more effective and efficient care by developing IT systems that align with the principles of personalized medicine, Edward Abrahams, president of the coalition. said in statement.

John Halamka, MD, who knows Rucker well, offered a more personal endorsement since Rucker served as emergency physician at Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston, where Halamka is CIO.

"We've worked together for 20 years," Halamka said. "He's a good friend and colleague – very qualified to serve in any healthcare IT role. He's balanced and thoughtful with a great deal of implementation experience."

Twitter: @Bernie_HITN