RWJF Nurse Fellow Works to Advance Better Health Care at Federal HIT Office

    • November 16, 2015

Nurses’ understanding of informatics varies widely, but Rebecca Freeman, a nurse informaticist and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellow, has deep expertise in the field. She was recently named chief nursing officer of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), the nation’s federal office on health information technology.

Freeman assumed the role in September. The office coordinates nationwide efforts to advance health information technology (IT) and the electronic exchange of health information.

“HHS is taking action, under the leadership of Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc., to ensure individuals and their families get the best care possible by building on and leveraging health IT,” Freeman, PhD, RN, PMP, said. “Nurses are on the frontlines of helping make this vision a reality and, through my role as chief nursing officer at ONC, I am working with nurses to ensure our insights and perspectives are part of policy and implementation.”

A ‘Huge Role’ for Nurses

Today, more than three-quarters of eligible providers and nine in 10 eligible hospitals have received incentive payments for using certified health IT, compared with fewer than 15 percent before the programs started. Freeman works as part of an interdisciplinary team to guide health IT into its next phase: creating interoperable learning health systems that allow health care professionals and patients to communicate with each other across devices, platforms and organizations. “We’re now moving into the bigger picture of health IT,” she said, adding that nurses—significant users of health IT—play a “huge role” in that transition.

Interoperability, she notes, isn’t just about sharing electronic health records on computers and mobile devices; it’s also about connecting new sources of data, such as “smart” infusion pumps and other devices, to improve health coordination and efficiency. “There are so many potential data sources,” Freeman said, “and we have to figure out how to define, standardize, and validate their input, then plug them into the learning health system architecture.”

Freeman and her colleagues aim to unlock access to data so “end-users” and others can more easily create interoperable systems, clarify and simplify federal health IT requirements, and further encourage stakeholders in the health care and health IT ecosystems to put even greater emphasis on creating more user-friendly systems. Freeman specifically hopes to work with nursing and allied health partners in all care settings to establish “rules of the road” roles for informatics leadership and documentation guidelines for interdisciplinary care teams that are based on value and evidence. She says that work will make implementation of health IT more seamless and efficient for clinical care teams, as well as allow them to play key roles in the move toward quality- and value-based payment.

Before assuming her current position, Freeman was assistant vice president of clinical informatics at Hospital Corporation of America. “Before I came to ONC,” she said, “I was on the end-user end of the spectrum. We were struggling to implement systems while agreeing on standard documentation and managing competing initiatives from different agencies. I’m surprised—and happy—to get here and see how many incredibly smart people are all dedicated to making things easier and better.”

RWJF has made a long-term investment in health information technology, including publishing a report this fall, Health Information Technology in the United States, 2015.