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2/3/2011
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National Health IT Coordinator Blumenthal Stepping Down

Dr. David Blumenthal, leader of the HITECH Act's meaningful use programs, told staff he only planned to stay in nation's top health IT job for two years.

Slideshow: Who's Who In Healthcare IT
Slideshow: Who's Who In Healthcare IT

National coordinator for health IT Dr. David Blumenthal is stepping down from the post this spring to return to Harvard University where he was a researcher prior to being named in 2009 to lead President Obama's vision for the nationwide adoption of interoperable electronic health records.

Blumenthal announced his decision in a memo to his staff on Thursday, saying that he originally planned to stay in the office of national coordinator job for only two years when he accepted the position in March 2009. Blumenthal took on the national coordinator post about a month after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's HITECH Act was signed by President Obama.

Since then, Blumenthal has been known for tirelessly working with the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, other government leaders and healthcare industry stakeholders in crafting the details of the HITECH Act's programs, which this year are set to begin awarding about $27 billion in financial incentives to doctors and hospitals who demonstrate the meaningful use of health IT, including e-health records and computerized physician order entry systems.

"David is a remarkable person who has really made a difference," said Dr. John Halamka, CIO at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

"The pace of EHR adoption, health information exchange, and quality measurement has rapidly accelerated during his tenure," said Halamka, who is also vice chair of the HIT Standards Committee, which makes recommendations about health IT standards to ONC. "I'm confident that the policy and technology foundation he has built will serve the country for years to come," said Halamka in an email interview with InformationWeek.

Despite progress that's underway by healthcare providers rolling out EHR systems in compliance to the HITECH Act, its programs have been a target for criticism, including the complexity of the meaningful use requirements. The HITECH programs also have recently taken a blow by newly elected House Republicans who are attempting to repeal funding for the meaningful use programs as they look to cut discretionary spending. However, such legislation isn’t expected to pass the Democrat-led Senate nor be signed by Obama.

The office of national coordinator was created by President George W. Bush via executive order in 2004, and is part of the Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Blumenthal is the third person to hold the national coordinator job since its creation, with the average tenure for the position being a little more than 2 years. The first national coordinator, Dr. David Brailer resigned after about two years in the job, and his successor, Dr. Robert Kolodner stayed in the post for about 2-1/2 years, including an interim stint after taking over for Brailer. Kolodner left the job when Blumenthal was appointed by Obama.

Prior to joining ONC, Blumenthal most recently served as a physician and director of the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital/Partners HealthCare System in Boston.

He was also a professor of medicine and health care policy at Harvard Medical School. There, he also served as director of the Harvard University Interfaculty Program for Health Systems Improvement.

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