21 Bow Tie Salute to Farzad Mostashari

by Dr Nick
Like many in the healthcare IT industry, I was saddened by the announcement that Dr Farzad Mostashari (@Farzad_ONC) would be retiring. I would suggest as famed football legend Vince Lombardi said

“The strength of the group is the strength of the leaders”

And, for healthcare technology, Dr. Mostashari has been a great leader. I’ve outlined below some of the many contributions he has made to healthcare.

Dr. Mostashari joined the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) in 2009, and has had a huge and positive impact on the implementation, development and overall perception of healthcare IT.  Personally impacted by the state of healthcare when his mother was admitted for arrhythmias, after having asked for the paper chart, he admitted;

I couldn’t even read the cardiology consult’s name
Perhaps this is one of the reasons he like me is a proud member of Regina Holliday (@ReginaHolliday) “Walking Gallery“. This difficult, and highly personal, situation likely galvanized his vision as he took on the daunting tasks demanded by the role of the ONC. He inherited a department that had, in effect, been pushed over the edge of the luge and, whilst speeding wildly along this track, was expected steer a course that would deliver on a range of programs in record time:

  • Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Records (EHR)
  • Certification program for EHRs
  • National Standards
  • Grant programs
  • Regional Extension Centers
And that was just what he knew about coming in. The team endured the challenges, weathered the storm in the “Office of No Christmas”

He rapidly earned a reputation as a leader who listened and was engaged.  He made many appearances and, although he may not have been the first, he was certainly an early adopter of social media and online engagement – clear indicators of his heartfelt passion to be part of the solution. As a customer service representative I recently encountered very astutely pointed out:
I can’t do anything about the past, but I can help improve the future

It is hard to pick individual highlights from such an impressive record, but here’s my list of Dr. Mostashari’s top 13 achievements and quotable/notable moments from his time in office:

  1. Successfully delivering on the Stage 1 Meaningful Use, despite frustrations and the challenges of a fickle and change-resistant healthcare profession.  He gracefully offered a personal hand to help steer his colleagues:
    “Meaningful use is the best-we-could-make-it roadmap to prepare for delivery of higher quality care and mitigating some of the costs toward getting there, if it’s a distraction we need to change it, and I want to hear from you personally.”
  2. Creating a viable technical assistance program that has touched many providers and hospitals through regional extension centers (REC).
  3. Driving the successful adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) and electronic medical records (EMRs).
  4. Interoperability (see note below on focus for the future)
  5. Pushing for patient empowerment (He, like me, is a proud owner and runway model for the Regina Holliday Healthcare Collection).
  6. As he said: “We’re on the right track to make meaningful use of meaningful use” 
  7. ePrescribing
  8. And as if to prove the point about his use of social media, this from his twitter feed: “We’ve made more progress with EHRs in the past 2 years then we have in 20”   
  9. Championing the patient engagement he stated: “We cannot have it be profitable to hoard patient information
  10. Nailing the coffin shut on paper he said: “Once you close a paper file it’s dead. You’re not able to move it or learn from it
  11. While this may not be his own personal quote but he applied cyberpunk science fiction, William F. Gibson famous quote to healthcare: “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” by pointing out that we do have the technology – its just not being applied
  12. Piloting Meaningful Use stage 2 criteria, which built on the success of stage 1, and pushed towards interoperability including standards for data sharing data, quality improvement, and quality measures that foster  patent engagement. As he put it: “We are using every lever at our disposal to increase the sharing of information” and “Patients need to care for themselves and become partners in their care
  13. Successfully weathering the storm of the controversial (or as he put it “headline grabbing“) Health Affairs article based on data from 2008 that suggested that EHR technology was increasing the costs of healthcare.
The Future:
To the lucky individual taking the reins, I offer five suggested  areas of focus:
2. A friend once said to me: “You’ve put us on the horse, you might as well give us the ride.” The same can be said of payment reform, which must shift from quantity-based to quality-based payment. And taking a sheet from Dr Mostashari’s play book, every journey starts with a single, small action, so even a small dent would be a welcome shift.

  1. Continue the engaged and inclusive discussion with all the constituents and make social media a central part of that strategy both for ONC but also for the healthcare industry.
  2. A friend once said to me: “You’ve put us on the horse, you might as well give us the ride” The same can be said of payment reform, which must shift from quantity-based to quality-based payment. And taking a sheet from Dr Mostashari’s play book, every journey starts with a single, small action, so even a small dent would be a welcome shift.
  3. I must include a shout out for patient engagement. Nowhere else in the industry will you find such a large and untapped resource that is ready, willing – but perhaps not yet able to participate in the change. As I have stated many times:  when a doctor and patient are in a room, there is nobody, I repeat nobody, more interested in successful outcomes than the patient. Give them the tools and make them part of the solution.
  4. Occasionally, the issue of Tort and Medical Negligence is raised, but it appears to have the “third rail” syndrome. Unless this is addressed, we will continue to see “defensive medicine” practiced. As I recently blogged in Science, Evidence and Clinical Practice, despite clear data that shows intensive monitoring causes more harm in normal care deliveries, we continue to see almost universal rates of this high-level monitoring.  While some may be attributable to the payment system, I believe a large part of this volume stems from the general inertia of and fear of litigation.
  5. Above all – have fun. I made this point at every soccer practice when I was a coach. If you aren’t having fun, there is little incentive to do well or, for that matter, to do at all. I know I am constantly amazed at the great fortune that finds me at this intersection of medicine and technology. I constantly have that feeling as if I paddled for the wave just at the right time:
“Surf’s Up dude – ten foot waves of the Pier”

The Making of the 21 Bow Tie Salute

Dr Farzad Mostashari has been an incredible role model, a source of inspiration and a true visionary who has helped others see what the future of healthcare can look like. And so, in extreme appreciation of all that he has accomplished, I offer this 21 Bow Tie Salute.  

I was fortunate enough to have another wonderful role model, my father, take the time to teach me how to tie a bow tie, but for those of you wanting to learn the fine craft of tying a bow tie, instructions are included below (The 21 Bow Tie Salute was made with Real Bow Ties). 
Thanks Dad!

Here are some basic instructions:

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