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1/20/2010
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Q&A: Health IT Czar Rethinks National Data Exchange

David Blumenthal talks about making national network accessible to small healthcare providers and also shares thoughts on the Massachusetts election, e-medical records use, and the health IT workforce.

The U.S. government for six years has been developing the Nationwide Health Information Network, a network of regional health information networks to enable the secure sharing of patient data. Now NHIN is being re-envisioned, national coordinator for health IT, Dr. David Blumenthal told InformationWeek.

Instead of aiming to have all healthcare providers on one granddaddy of a national network, the new goal is to get more providers sharing data, even if it's just with practitioners in their immediate vicinity.

Blumenthal discussed the nation's health information exchanges, as well as the Massachusetts election, criteria being developed for the meaningful use of e-medical records, and the health IT workforce in an interview with InformationWeek senior writer Marianne Kolbasuk McGee.

InformationWeek: As a Massachusetts native, what's your reaction to Republican Scott Brown winning Ted Kennedy's Senate seat? Do you expect any impact on healthcare reform and health IT efforts?

Blumenthal: People from both sides of the aisle recognize that health information technology is essential to a modern healthcare system. I expect that our efforts will continue unimpeded by this event. As far as health reform, I'll leave it to the White House to comment on that.

InformationWeek: There's been criticism of the meaningful use rules, which require healthcare providers to demonstrate "meaningful use" of EMRs in order get reimbursed for investing in those systems. The rules are close to being finalized, but have been criticized for having watered-down quality measures, such as those related to patient progress notes. Was it a challenge to develop rules that were achievable for healthcare providers within the timeframe set up in stimulus legislation?

Blumenthal: Congress set very ambitious goals for the HITECH legislation. The concept of meaningful use is novel, and a very powerful and important concept. The process of defining meaningful use has gone through many months, through many public hearings.

We received a great amount of public comment and an enormous amount of [input] from our Health IT Policy Committee and from the community at large. Now the community has a chance to comment again on the proposed rules.

I don't think it's appropriate to comment on the comments yet. We're still early in the comment period, and I'm sure we'll be hearing from many shareholders with many points of view, and I welcome that.

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