ONC chief urges IT champions to back healthcare reform

By Bernie Monegain
10:44 AM

The best way to support the nation’s healthcare IT initiatives is to back healthcare reform, says David Blumenthal, MD, the national coordinator for health information technology.

“We will not succeed in our agenda unless reform succeeds,” Blumenthal said Wednesday during a healthcare forum at the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C..

Blumenthal also talked about stimulus money for healthcare IT and the "meaningful use” of information technology in healthcare. He said the use of electronic medical records in his own practice had made him a better doctor, and he envisioned a day when IT would be as ubiquitous as a stethoscope in a physician’s practice and IT skills would become part of the licensing process.

“It’s going to be ultimately incorporated in the culture,” he said.

In response to a question about whether the $20 billion for healthcare IT in the federal stimulus package would be enough to achieve widespread adoption, he said, “This is not about the technology and ultimately, I hope it’s not about the money. Money will be a sweetener, but not a determinative.”

He said his priorities include providing a definition for "meaningful use" of healthcare IT, as required by the HITECH portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"There is obviously an enormous amount of expectation about that,” he said. He said the definition would “focus us on the outcome of adoption rather than on the process of adoption,” and that it would not be a definition “born full form” from the federal government.

The definition put forth by the government, he said, would provide an entry point for discussion, and the definition developed today would likely be different in 2015 and 2018 as the bar is raised.

The Office of the National Coordinator and groups affiliated with it are focused on what providers need, he said.

“We are very sensitive to the need for hands-on technological support at the point of adoption,” he said. “We understand that that is a critical ingredient to success.”

Blumenthal also discussed:

  • Health information exchanges. The stimulus package includes least $300 million to promote HIE at regional and sub regional level. The ONC will provide an outline for a program this spring or early summer.
  • The ONC will look at the issue of workforce training.
  • Privacy and security. “Privacy and security is very much on our minds,” he said. “If there is not trust in this system, it will not be acceptable to the American people.”

The forum, introduced and closed by Mark McClellan, director of the Engelberg Center, included two panels that addressed the effective implementation of the stimulus funds dedicated to driving “meaningful use” of health IT, prior to the keynote address by Blumenthal.