In a brief statement on Sept. 20, Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt announced that Robert Kolodner is the interim health IT czar.
Kolodner is currently serving as chief health informatics officer of the Veterans Health Administration, and his office oversees the VAs extensive EHR system, called VistA, and maintains over 140 national databases.
David Brailer, the nations first health IT czar, stepped down in May 2006, saying that he never planned to be in the post for more than two years.
Brailer had been appointed in April 2004 and spent his time criss-crossing the country calling on physicians to adopt health IT and for policymakers and technologists to create IT systems that could work together seamlessly.
Why the appointment is designated as interim is unclear, since legislation establishing the Office of the National Coordinator states only that the coordinator is to be appointed by the Health and Human Services Secretary and does not require Congressional approval.
Brailer announced his resignation in March and said he would help in the search for his successor.
The HHS Office did not return calls and e-mails asking why Kolodner was not the permanent appointee and when the permanent coordinator would be announced.
“Im perplexed,” said David Merritt, spokesman for the Center for Health Transformation, when asked why the position had not been filled permanently.
Merrit said his group, a non-profit founded by Newt Gingrich, was advocating that the position be filled permanently by someone from the private sector rather than government. Kolodner has been with the VA for over two decades.
Nonetheless, Kolodner was a “fine appointment,” Merrit said. “He knows Washington. He knows politics. Hes built a heck of a system at the Veterans Administration.”
When Brailer resigned, he blamed his lack of understanding of Washington for setbacks such as having funding for his office cut when Congress passed the national budget.
Kolodner is also a well-known face on the health IT speaking circuit. VA hospitals are famous for their successful implementation of health IT.
Trained as a psychiatrist and with degrees from Harvard and Yale, Kolodner chaired the Mental Health Special Interest Users Group at the VA and helped lay the groundwork for the DHCP (Decentralized Hospital Computer Program), which is VAs healthcare information system.
He is credited with fostering the creation of My HealtheVet, an Internet health portal for veterans and their families as well as helping to establish an interagency health technology initiative between the VA and the Department of Defense.
Earlier in 2006, the VAs electronic health system received an Innovations in Government Award from Harvard Universitys Kennedy School of Government.
In 2005, Kolodner won the special achievement award from the American Hospital Associations Section for Federal Hospitals.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include additional information and comments from a spokesman for the Center for Health Transformation.