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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.
InformationWeek: Once you get clinicians using e-medical records, who pays to maintain the exchange infrastructure?

Blumenthal: It's a short-term issue. Long term it's going to become an expectation on the part of the clinician and patient that information is going to be exchanged. And I think it will become a cost of doing business in the healthcare sector just as physicians and nurses consider it a cost of doing business to buy stethoscopes and run an office.

InformationWeek: Now that the meaningful use definitions are near final, what's next on your agenda?

Blumenthal: We want to get out a regulation creating a certification process; we're working very hard on that. We have an enormous number of programs to implement that have been announced over the last two to three months. So that's a big challenge.

The Congress asked us to develop a governance mechanism for a nationwide health information network, and as soon as we have our options clarified on that [network] we'll proceed on that project.

And of course we have to finalize the [meaningful use] regulations that we've issued in a more proposed form. Then we have to begin thinking about what's next for meaningful use and those standards. We'll be looking at that towards the middle of 2010, anticipating that we're going to need to begin modifying meaningful use as a standard and certification criteria prior to 2013.

InformationWeek: Will the Certification Commission for Heath IT--CCHIT-- remain the organization doing these certifications, or will there be others?

Blumenthal: We'll have to see what the regulation actually is and see where CCHIT fits in. CCHIT is clearly going to have the option to participate in certification going forward, but I can't tell you what role exactly it will play.

InformationWeek: How confident are you that there'll be enough talent out there to get these healthcare systems up and running to meet the meaningful use deadlines?

Blumenthal: We're going to be training a lot of these professionals, and I hope we get them out in time. We're going to get them out as fast as we can.

Professional organizations indicate there are shortages. I think people who are IT trained are potential candidates for these jobs, but they need to ... understand the challenges of healthcare, the problems, the kind of cultures of healthcare delivery.

Those are the kinds of people we'd want to attract into healthcare, but we also want to attract people who might not be IT professionals but have knowledge of healthcare and see this as an interesting area for them. Our training programs for community colleges will provide a lot of the necessary skills, we hope.

Blue Cross of Northeast Pennsylvania, the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and a range of large and small healthcare providers are using mobile apps to improve care and help patients manage their health. Find out how. Download the report here (registration required).