Top health IT official emphasizes balance of government, market forces

Mostashari, who took over as national coordinator for health information technology this month, gave few specifics about the administration's approach to health IT during a speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center. But he said certain core principles including privacy will drive the work.

He touted progress in encouraging doctors to switch from paper to electronic records and the development of regional systems for exchanging information. Noting that individual doctors rarely see the savings from electronic records because the effect is spread across the healthcare system, he said programs like the government's adoption incentives are essential.

"We have to do the minimum government action, but no less," Mostashari said.

Prodded by former Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Mostashari also said privacy is a key concern in health IT policy. Bennett noted that some chronically ill patients are leery of coordinated electronic records because they fear losing their jobs and access to insurance if word of their illness leaks out to an employer. 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must ensure that strong privacy standards apply to every entity that handles electronic records, Mostashari said, adding that HHS will issue a regulation later this year on the "trusted intermediaries" who move data from one place to another. In addition to government-mandated standards, Mostashari said he expects the private market to respond to the demand for technology that protects the security of patients' records.

Mostashari has been with the department since 2009 and before that was with the New York City Health Department. He took over from David Blumenthal, who recently left the administration to head back to his teaching post at Harvard.