A Colleague Moves On…

Dr. Doug Fridsma | August 11, 2011

Last week, Arien Malec submitted his resignation as Coordinator of the Direct Project and the Standards & Interoperability (S&I) Framework to return to the private sector.  In the past year and a half, he has successfully built a solid foundation for nationwide interoperability and exchange through his creative and diligent leadership of the Direct Project and the S&I Framework. Arien’s role as Coordinator of the S&I Framework will be transitioned to Jitin Asnaani, who will also act as interim Coordinator for the Direct Project.  Jitin’s experience as Initiative Coordinator for two of the current S&I initiatives and role in helping State Health Information Exchanges to implement Direct Project specifications ensures that both of these important initiatives will continue receiving appropriate ONC guidance.

Arien’s reasons for leaving are strictly personal, and I asked him to share his thoughts on his transition:

When I originally talked to Farzad Mostashari, Todd Park, and Doug Fridsma about working with ONC on what became known as the Direct Project, we agreed on a short-term, narrowly focused nine-month effort, at the end of which I would go back to the world I’ve known and loved: the world of the innovative health-care startup.

Well, it’s nearly 18 months later, and I’ve decided finally to make the decision to go back to industry. In many ways, I’m still having the time of my life in the government world of health care technology policy at the ONC. Working for ONC has been like working for the world’s biggest startup. People in startups may think they are in it for the big exit, but most of them are really in it for the thrill of the mission — working with amazing people and doing the impossible every few months to change the world for the better. And that’s what my ONC experience has been about, including my work with the Direct Project, with the Standards and Interoperability Framework, and most recently work that I have been doing on the wider portfolio of ONC work on integrated care with focus on improved transitions of care. Sometimes people read too much into decisions like this, so to be completely clear, I am not making this decision because I disagree with anything that is currently happening.

So why leave now? Quite simple. I am West Coast based, and much of the work has been in Washington, D.C., and the need to be in D.C. to do my work well has only been increasing with the wider work I have been doing at ONC. The travel has been hard on my family, and they have been telling me (quite loudly at times) to spend more time close to home.

As I leave, I want to thank Farzad, Todd, and Doug for giving me this wonderful opportunity. This country is so lucky to have them and to have the rest of the leadership team at ONC. They are doing an amazing job in service of the country, and they deserve all our support, hard work, and advice and feedback in this mission to improve health and health care through information technology.

When he heard the news, Farzad Mostashari, the National Coordinator for Health IT commented, “Arien’s groundbreaking work will help health care providers immeasurably with exchanging information to improve patient care.  His skillful touch in coordinating among numerous stakeholders, his combination of policy and technical savvy, and his positive, can-do attitude were marvels to behold, and a real service to the country. We wish Arien all the best as he returns to the private sector.”

I couldn’t say it better myself.  Simply put, Arien has been a fantastic colleague, and he’ll be sorely missed here in the Office of Standards & Interoperability. Best of luck, my friend!