New ONC head Karen DeSalvo discusses importance of EHR usability

Providers who are unsure of how much of an impact electronic health records will have on the health care industry may want to turn to a recent statement from Karen DeSalvo, M.D., the new national coordinator for health information technology. According to MedPage Today, DeSalvo said that the ability of physicians to use EHRs will be a major part of the creation of medical payment and delivery reforms in the U.S. She said this while speaking at the annual meeting of the Office of the National Coordinator. 

DeSalvo stressed that there is a need for federal regulations to address creating highly usable EHRs to make sure that doctors are able to access all of the information they need with ease. 

"The systems on the front line have to be usable so that doctors actually want to interact with the electronic health record, or [so that] nurses or others can access critical information that will eventually not just save money or improve the quality of care but save lives," DeSalvo said, quoted by MedPage Today. 

Start of a new era
The news source explained that DeSalvo had only had her new role for about a week when she spoke at the annual meeting, but she has been working with EHRs for much longer. Previously, she was an internist and the health commissioner of New Orleans. Thanks in part to DeSalvo's efforts, the health commissioner of New Orleans converted to an electronic scheduling system. Furthermore, she was an employee at the Veterans Administration when it was in the process of implementing an EHR system. 

When DeSalvo was working in New Orleans, one of her main jobs was to help the city restore its crumpled health information infrastructure, which she did using the help of EHRs. 

"When asked to be a part of ONC's leadership, I said 'Absolutely yes'," DeSalvo said, quoted by MedPage Today. "…We are making strides in expanding coverage and getting everybody in the tent. Our challenge now is to see that when everybody is in the tent that the care is as effective and efficient and safe as possible."

The news source added that John Halamka, M.D., chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said that he believes that in order to enhance the usability of EHRs, the ONC should change the vendor certification program. He explained that one of the issues is that some of the certification test procedures call for workflows that physicians will probably not use in the real world. 

More on Karen DeSalvo
When it was announced that DeSalvo would take over as the new national coordinator, Healthcare IT News published an article explaining some things that people may not know about DeSalvo. For example, before she was New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu's health policy advisor, she was the vice dean for community affairs and health policy at Tulane University School of Medicine. 

Furthermore, she has been recognized by organizations in the past for her charity work and professionalism. For example, the Children's Bureau of New Orleans named her a Children's Hero in October 2013, and the Louisiana Legislative Women's Caucus recognized her among the "Women of Excellence in Health Care." She also started a group of safety net providers in New Orleans called 504HealthNet and served as its president. 

She will be the fifth national coordinator for health IT in the U.S. DeSalvo is replacing Jacob Reider, M.D., who was appointed acting national coordinator in November when Farzad Mostashari, M.D., stepped down.