Blumenthal, governor put health IT center stage in Boston

By Bernie Monegain
10:50 AM

The government will announce "soon - it should be very, very soon" which 15 communities of the 130 that applied will be awarded Beacon Community grants, National Coordinator for Health IT David Blumenthal, MD, said Thursday.

Blumenthal spoke in Boston before an audience of about 600 people at the "Health Information Technology: Creating Jobs, Reducing Costs and Improving Quality" conference called by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
Blumenthal said he was filling in for his boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who had been slated to deliver the day's first keynote talk.

Sebelius and Patrick were both in the nation's capital at the funeral of civil rights activist Dorothy Height.

Blumenthal said he and his team were surprised by the number of applications they received.

"It's more than we expected," Blumenthal said. It showed the readiness of communities around the country to put healthcare IT to work on improving population health.

The Beacon program provides funding to communities to build and strengthen their health information technology infrastructure and exchange capabilities. The Beacon communities are to generate and share lessons learned. The goal is to achieve measurable improvements in healthcare quality, safety, efficiency, and population health.

The $220 million in grants will be the last of the $2 billion the ONC has to disburse to encourage the use of healthcare IT, Blumenthal noted.

"This has been a year of creation," he said, noting the establishment of several programs, among them the State Health Information Exchange Program; the SHARP Program (Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects); and the Curriculum Development Centers Program to help train a new health IT workforce.

"No country has ever tried to do anything so ambitious," Blumenthal said.

Patrick returned to Boston in time to take the stage after Blumenthal. "We are a leader in this," he said. "As federal healthcare reform takes root, many will look to Massachusetts."

He observed that:

  • The commonwealth has 450,000 people in the healthcare workforce, representing $20 billion in annual revenue;
  • 95 percent of citizens have health insurance
  • Massachusetts is home to the top five NIH hospitals in the country;
  • 45 percent of doctors have electronic health records;
  • 50 percent of doctors use CPOE, five times the national average;
  • Massachusetts is No. 1 in e-prescribing.

The healthcare IT field is expected to create 50,000 new jobs nationwide, Patrick told the audience. "And, goodness knows, we need those jobs."

"This is one of the most exciting opportunities in the nation right now," he concluded. "We must have the courage to focus on long-term outcomes – not just tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow."

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