CHICAGO — Two of the more recent hires in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology have similar sounding job titles but different responsibilities.

Michael McCoy, M.D., who joined ONC earlier this year as chief health information officer, is charged with executing and overseeing the office’s interoperability push for electronic health records from a broader, policy-focused perspective.

Meanwhile, Thomas Mason, M.D., ONC’s chief medical officer who also joined this year, is working to ensure that EHRs are actually improving care and helping physicians and their patients instead of hindering them.

Both have extensive experience in the field, McCoy having practiced as an obstetrician-gynecologist in Georgia and Mason coming from a string of senior medical officer positions in various areas related to public health in Chicago.

McCoy, in an interview at the HIMSS conference, said he hopes to leverage his diverse work experiences as a provider, a large health system executive, a vendor executive and industry oversight board member into advancing the usefulness of EHRs. “To properly position the country to have payment reform, we have to have interoperability to connect records and have data flow appropriately,” McCoy said.

The ONC’s latest move in that regard was the release of its information blocking report to Congress, which may get the data flowing more quickly.
“Anything that is an impediment to data flowing freely is subversive to the overall good of the public, whether that’s intentional, unintentional, business practice or laziness — whatever it may be, data should flow easily so patients receive better care,” McCoy said. ONC will work with Congress or others to make sure patients have access to their records and that it flows where they want it to flow, he said.

Already, the release of the findings may be shaking up the industry. “The report hopefully served as a wake-up call,” McCoy said.

Mason, who most recently served as chief medical informatics officer of the Ambulatory and Community Health Network of the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, will oversee the clinical programs run through ONC, and plans to apply his public health background as a user of EHRs to his work. “I’ve spent a lot of my career looking at how we optimize the interaction between the provider and the electronic health record system,” he said.

The patient’s role and engagement also will be a focus. “I am passionate about developing a person-centered approach to health care,” Mason said.