While US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials said they will not comment on or confirm that Rucker has taken over the ONC’s top position, Politico last week reported that Rucker’s name and position within the agency is listed in the HHS employee directory. Politico reported that HHS press relations staff have a new policy where they will not comment, even to confirm the employment, of government appointees who don’t need Senate confirmation. Nevertheless, the two most recent individuals to hold the National Coordinator role, Vindell Washington, MD, and Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, have both expressed their congratulations to Rucker on Twitter, and several other industry insiders have voiced their views on the new ONC head.
In addition to his health IT vendor work, Rucker has served as an emergency room physician at Kaiser Permanente in California, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and at the University of Pennsylvania hospitals, according to a biography posted to the Ohio State University College of Medicine website—where Rucker has also worked as an adjunct professor in the department of biomedical informatics.
Rucker received his medical training at the University of Pennsylvania, and he received his MBA and computer science degrees from Stanford University, according to Politico.
Rucker has deep health IT industry experience. He co-developed the world’s first Microsoft Windows-based electronic health record (EHR) while working for Datamedic Corporation. Prior to working for Ohio State, Rucker served as the chief medical officer for Siemens Healthcare USA for 13 years. Rucker also served on the ONC Policy Committee from 2011 to 2014.
Lauren Riplinger, JD, senior director of federal relations at AHIMA, said she is pleased to see someone with so much health IT expertise lead ONC.
“I’m glad he has some sort of IT background because I feel like you really need a technologist in that role,” Riplinger said.
Former acting ONC director Jacob Reider agreed, telling Politico: “Don has firsthand experience in the industry with the fact that some health IT vendors have not developed the best software. A lot of what we’ve put into place in the last seven years are a set of guardrails to protect the public. If we roll back usability requirements, certification, and safety requirements, we’ll have unsafe health IT systems. And I think Don appreciates that and will be able to temper some of what may be pressure from the industry to pull back on some of these things.”
Reider also published a personal blog post about his Rucker’s appointment.
The health IT industry is watching anxiously to see how Rucker handles EHR oversight and testing, which is part of ONC’s Health IT Certification System included in a final rule issued by ONC last year.
As Politico notes, “Rucker was concerned that timeframes provided by certification and meaningful use programs were too short. He felt that meaningful use requirements were so taxing that EHR vendors were unable to do anything innovative with their software.”