The man behind the government's electronic health record initiatives, Dr. David Blumenthal, will end his two-year tenure as national health care IT coordinator.
National health care IT
leader Dr. David Blumenthal announced Feb. 3 that he will step down from his
post this spring to return to his career as a professor of medicine and health
care policy at Harvard University.
President Barack Obama
appointed Blumenthal as the national coordinator for health information
technology in March 2009. Congress passed the HITECH (Health Information
Technology Economic and Clinical Health) Act of 2009 the month before.
Blumenthal helped nudge the health care industry toward adopting EHRs
(electronic health records) and satisfying the government's meaningful-use
"HITECH gave ONC a
major role in assisting health professionals and institutions to make these
critical changes in the way care is delivered, and we have begun this work in
earnest," Blumenthal wrote in a memo to the staff of the ONC (Office of
the National Coordinator) of Health Information Technology, obtained by Health Care IT
Under his watch, Obama's administration pledged to award up to $27 billion in incentives for
health care companies implementing EHRs, beginning last month. The allotment is
now under fire in Congress, however.
"David will leave his
post having built a strong foundation, created real momentum for HIT [health
IT] adoption, charted a course for the meaningful use of EHRs, and launched a
new phase of cooperative and supportive work with the health care community,
states and cities across the nation," Health & Human Services
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a memo to Health and Human Service senior
leadership and ONC staff.
From the time he took the
ONC post, he had planned to return to Harvard this spring, Blumenthal wrote.
Word of Blumenthal's
impending departure came a day after he announced
pilot HIEs (health-information exchanges) for Minnesota and
Rhode Island. The Direct Project is a government initiative to make HIEs
accessible for health care professionals nationwide.
The Direct Project announcement
marked a natural time for Blumenthal to step aside, suggested Gartner analyst
"It was fitting that
Dr. Blumenthal announced his departure the day after a press conference
announcing that the Direct Project had gone into live production," Rishel
wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK. "Remarkable speed, transparency and
leadership without being dictatorial have been the hallmarks of the ONC under
his leadership," he added.
During his time at the ONC,
the agency started 84 community college programs to provide health care IT
training for clinicians. The ONC also set up the Beacon program to help
communities establish HIEs for sharing health records. Recently 17 communities
received Beacon status, including the Greater
Tulsa Health Access Network
With Blumenthal leaving and
Republicans in Congress anxious to repeal the Obama administration's national
health program, it remains to be seen what will come of the meaningful-use
guidelines and the push for EHRs
"I think the health IT
industry would like to see the meaningful-use requirements, rules and
definitions progress and be finalized more quickly, and the change in
leadership could result in either a slowdown or additional momentum, depending
on who is the replacement and how quickly they are put in place," Judy
Hanover, an analyst for IDC, told eWEEK in an e-mail. "It would be
disappointing if momentum was lost in the transition."