How will Berwick impact health IT adoption?

By Jeff Rowe
02:32 AM

While Congress was in recess, President Obama appointed Donald Berwick, MD, to lead the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which has been without an administrator since 2006. Let's forget the usual politics for a moment and focus on the impact this appointment will make on health IT adoption.

Given that CMS is the agency in charge of the federal incentive program for health IT adoption, I assume that Berwick is a health IT advocate. I looked up articles on Berwick to see where he stands and what he’s done.

Berwick has the endorsement of major health IT proponents. Paul Tang, MD, an internist and vice president, chief medical information officer at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Palo Alto, Calif. Tang also serves as vice chair of the federal Health IT Policy Committee, said Berwick has the opportunity to "fundamentally transform the U.S. healthcare system and position it for the future."

John Halamka, MD, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and Harvard Medical School, called Berwick "a remarkable leader and visionary." He said, "He is the best person I know to implement the mandates of health reform and improve the quality, safety and efficiency of healthcare in the U.S."

John Glaser, CIO of Partners HealthCare in Boston, said, "What you have here is someone who is deeply committed to quality and deeply committed to applying whatever lever one can apply to help hospitals deliver safer care and higher quality care and that kind of orientation and aspiration and desire, I think will be very important and perhaps even transformative for CMS." Glaser said Berwick could help focus the system on "performance of care rather than occurrence of care."

Lois Heim, MD, head of the American Academy of Family Physicians, cited Berwick's work as founder and president of the Institute for Health Care Improvement, which focused on ways of "bringing value to healthcare - improving quality and lowering costs."

All these comments, with their focus on improving quality and lowering costs, point to confidence in Berwick that he will deploy health IT to achieve these goals. Here are other comments about Berwick that suggest his support for health IT adoption.

In a blog by James Burdick, MD, professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and former director of the Division of Transplantation for the Dept. of Health and Human Services, publishing in the Baltimore Sun, praised Berwick's work at the Institute over collaborative care teams. Two elements of collaboration are improved communications and "authoritative guidelines," which I took to mean evidence-based medicine. EMRs help deliver both.

According to liberal Washington Post blogger and Newsweek contributor Ezra Klein, "Insofar as Berwick is a radical, he's a radical in favor of a patient-centered health-care system - a position that has traditionally been associated with conservatives, not liberals." Sorry, there was a little politics there. I included his comment here because he said Berwick favors patient-centered healthcare. Another blogger also highlighted Berwick's focus on teamwork, patient-centeredness and safety. Again, EMRs - if used properly - are agents for these tenets.

So, if you can get past all the partisan talk about the process by which Berwick has landed as head of CMS, there's hope that his past focus will inform CMS' future. And that future looks to include a big role for EMRs.