What President Trump's HHS nominee means for health IT

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President Donald Trump tweeted his intent Monday to nominate ex-Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar to fill the vacant HHS secretary post, but Mr. Azar's position on health IT is not yet clear, according to Politico Morning eHealth newsletter.

In September, former HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, resigned following an investigation into his extensive use of taxpayer-funded private jets. Eric Hargan, a Chicago-based lawyer, filled in as acting secretary after Don Wright, MD, temporarily held the post.  

Here are seven implications the nomination has for health IT.

1. Mr. Azar helped establish the ONC while he served as general counsel at HHS during the Bush administration.

2. Later, as HHS deputy secretary in 2005, Mr. Azar was what his colleagues would call "an unflinching supporter of health IT...He immediately got what we were doing, why it was important," David Brailer, the first head of ONC, told Politico Morning eHealth.

3. According to Jodi Daniel, HHS' first senior health IT counsel and ONC's policy director, "[Mr. Azar] addressed the need for coordinated legal strategy across HHS to promote adoption of health IT and related efforts such as ePrescribing and standards for digital health information. As deputy secretary, he had responsibility for establishing ONC pursuant to the executive order," she told Politico Morning eHealth separately.

4. Fourteen years ago, just before Congress considered implementing the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, Brailer recalled Mr. Azar did not believe the government could or should regulate EHRs. However, it is difficult to know whether his time in the pharmaceutical industry has altered his stance.

5. Kirk Nahra, a HIPAA attorney who worked with Mr. Azar in the 1990s at a law firm called Wiley, Rein & Fielding, said Mr. Azar tends to be supportive of technology and innovation, but Mr. Nahra wasn't aware of his stance on specific privacy perspectives.

6. Telemedicine advocates did not know who he was, Politico noted.

7. Premier CEO Susan DeVore said in a statement that Mr. Azar "appreciates the need to have access to healthcare data and interoperability of health information systems."

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