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Federal Health Architecture Director Steps Down

Vish Sankaran used his post to urge federal agencies to collaborate with one another and to adopt interoperable health IT.

Vish Sankaran, Director of the Federal Health Architecture (FHA) program in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), has resigned.

"Within the next several weeks, I will be departing from the Federal Health Architecture program to seek other opportunities," he said in a letter sent via e-mail to staff members.

Sankaran also said in the letter that his departures comes at an opportune time for new leadership to reshape the FHA's overarching federal health IT infrastructure that is currently being developed.

Sankaran was appointed director of the Department of Health and Human Services' Federal Health Architecture (FHA) program in March 2007.

He used his post to urge federal agencies to collaborate with one another and to adopt interoperable health IT which allowed for secure exchanges of health information within the federal government, and with state, tribal, and local governments and the private sector.

The FHA serves the needs of more than twenty federal agencies in domains as diverse as military and veterans' healthcare, public health monitoring, long-term care and disability services, research, tribal health services, and many other critical federal priorities.

During his tenure, Sankaran helped make available the open source software gateway called CONNECT to help public and private health information technology systems communicate to the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN).

Sankaran's work helped to incorporate standards and services which strengthened the NHIN, which ties together health information exchanges, integrated delivery networks, pharmacies, government health facilities and payers, labs, providers, private payers and other stakeholders.

Recently, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Indian Health Service, and the National Cancer Institute tested and demonstrated CONNECT's ability to share data among one another and with private sector organizations. In February 2009, the CONNECT software gateway was used for the first time in a limited production environment when the SSA began receiving live patient data from MedVirginia through the NHIN.

"Delivering CONNECT has been an enormous project, and we still have a lot of work to do to move us to large-scale production usage. But with the support of the federal agencies and industry, we can accomplish the lofty health IT goals set at the national level," Sankaran said in a statement earlier this month.

Sankaran's departure comes at a particularly critical time in the move toward health care reform and in the establishment of a new health IT infrastructure that demands patient information exchanges occur seamlessly across federal, state, and local entities as well as among hospital systems and insurance companies.

In his departure letter, Sankaran said: "Our achievements have been significant, creating a template for how the public and private sectors could work together to set a new bar for health information exchange and to create an "ecosystem" of buyers and sellers in the marketplace. A great illustration of our collaboration is the CONNECT solution, which has been adopted by both government agencies and the private sector. This open-source platform has evolved into a venue for innovation which continues to this day."

In his letter, Sankaran said he was thankful for the chance to work as a public servant and said he hoped to continue making a contribution to the national effort to transform health care in the future.

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