Benjamin Harris, Social Media Editor, Future Care
Ben Harris is a former reporter and social media producer for HIMSS Media. He served as Future Care's first Editor.

Interview: Mostashari on innovation upon leaving ONC

September 24, 2013 AT 6:29 PM

Last week, HIMSS Media editors spoke with Farzad Mostashari, MD, about his tenure at the ONC. The conversation ranged from Mostashari's views on the real value of health IT, his love of Twitter, and what he thought his greatest accomplishments have been (spoiler: he says he hasn't had any accomplishments, giving all the credit to those who he works with. What a guy!) When it came time for me to grill him, I asked about the his thoughts on what new and innovative technologies we have now that we didn't when the man behind the bowtie took his position at the ONC.

Q: Have you seen anything upon your departure that has become more significant than you would have guessed when starting at ONC?

A: Blue Button. 

Q: Okay, that’s easy enough. 

A: I think it’s a game changer. The idea of health information exchange of one. The idea that through view, download, transmit you can get your own data from all your care providers and share with whoever you want to share it with. The ecosystem of apps and services on top of that data to help people manage their health, finances, chronic disease, their prevention, the gamification, social, and just the explosion in venture funding and startups in this space that’s all fueled by payment reform and oxygenated by data. That is something I had not expected to take off this quickly. 

Q: In talking with some of the people involved with Blue Button one of the things that struck me is the lack of a top-down structure or rules. You guys have kept it very open for developers and entrepreneurs to create their own vision. Was that by design or did you evolve during the process to realize that you could get it to advance a lot faster by making fewer rules?

A: It’s been a quite explicit strategy to reuse to the extent possible on the standards side. So Blue Button+ helps to drive the structured data forward that the developers really need for the ecosystem. But what’s amazingly simplifying about Blue Button is on the policy side where the patient getting their own data and being the medium of that just removes so much complexity — you don’t need a Master Patient Index, the patient tells you who they are. You don't need a Record Locator Service, the patient is the Record Locator Service. You don’t have to worry about ‘how do I deal with consent issues,’ the patient’s saying ‘give it to me.’ You don’t have to worry about HIPAA because HIPAA actually says you have to give it to the patient. I mean, issue after issue after issue, it’s just a drastically simplifying framework for moving information. 

The original Presidential Innovation Fellow, innovation fellow zero Todd Park, a successful entrepreneur entering in as our chief technology officer really put his stamp on this idea to liberate the data and get out of the way. For bringing that spirit of innovation into government, I give him so much credit. 

Government Health IT Editor Tom Sullivan contributed to this report