Obama's Latest March Madness Pick: Health IT Czar - InformationWeek

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Obama's Latest March Madness Pick: Health IT Czar

Though the Obama administration still has lots of key positions to fill--including naming a federal chief technology officer-- one critical appointment was made last week that will help fill in many of the important details related to Obama's nearly $20 billion health IT stimulus program.

Though the Obama administration still has lots of key positions to fill--including naming a federal chief technology officer-- one critical appointment was made last week that will help fill in many of the important details related to Obama's nearly $20 billion health IT stimulus program.Dr. David Blumenthal, a physician and long-time official at two prestigious Boston hospitals owned by Partners HealthCare --Mass General and Brigham & Women's--was named National Coordinator for Health IT.

That health IT czar job was created as a sub-cabinet position by President Bush in 2004, and since then only two others have held the post--Dr. David Brailer, a physician and health IT entrepreneur-- and most recently, Dr. Robert Kolodner, a physician and former Veterans Health Administration official.

But under Obama's administration, the new health IT czar has renewed potential for helping to make true transformative moves in health care when it comes to how patients' clinical information is captured, collected, exchanged, analyzed. Though Blumenthal--as was Brailer and Kolodner--is charged with leading "the implementation of a nationwide interoperable," privacy-protected health IT infrastructure--this time the job comes with some real solid backing --about $19.5 billion worth.

By comparison, the office of national coordinator for health IT, or ONC, received total funding somewhere in the low millions of dollars--not billions--while Brailer and Kolodner held the top job during the last five years. Of course, throwing more money at problems doesn't necessarily guarantee success, but the funds being allotted this time to health IT has got to make a much bigger impact. The bulk of the stimulus money essentially pay doctors and hospitals to "modernize" their organizations with standards-based IT. The Dept. of Health and Human Services says the adoption of interoperable health IT by the nation's health care providers is expected to save the government $12 billion over 10 years. Those figures don't include potential savings to the rest of the nation, including cost savings by private insurers.

Under Obama's stimulus program, the office of national coordinator of health IT will receive about $2 billion in funding for programs related to IT standards work, research and also loans and grants to help the nation's health care providers launch health IT initiatives. Many of the details about those programs will be filled in by Blumenthal and team.

The other $17 billion-plus is earmarked for the financial incentive programs to reward doctors and hospitals that use health IT in "meaningful" ways. What's been lacking in the stimulus legislation so far are many of the fine details about how those programs will work--including the definition of "meaningful use" of health IT. Surely, Blumenthal will be lending his experience and vision to those particulars, as well.

John Glaser, CIO at Partners Healthcare and a longtime colleague of Blumenthal says the Obama administration made a good pick for its health IT czar.

"I've known David for 20 years and have worked with him on several studies on HIT adoption and use and several HIT initiatives such as the Eastern Massachusetts Healthcare Initiative," said Glaser in an email interview with InformationWeek. Blumenthal "is very smart, knowledgeable and articulate. He's one of the most thoughtful individuals I have ever met," he said." He's a great choice."

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