Blumenthal steps down from ONC

By Molly Merrill
10:34 AM

National Coordinator for Health Information Technology David Blumenthal, MD, in February that he would down from his post in the spring and return to Harvard.

Blumenthal told his staff in a Feb. 3 memo that he would be returning to the university, as was his plan when he accepted the position of national coordinator in March of 2009.

Prior to his role at the ONC he was a practicing primary care physician and Harvard Medical School professor. He taught medicine and healthcare policy and served as director of Massachusetts General Hospital's Institute for Health Policy.

Blumenthal cited the passage of the Health Information Technology Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 – which offered $27 billion in incentive payments to help support adoption of EHRs – as a “rare opportunity” to transcend obstacles that had previously stood in the way of converting the nation’s health system from paper to digital.

“I believe we have effectively seized that opportunity, and you deserve the credit for this achievement,” he

wrote to his staff.

But while the HITECH Act is important, he added, “the key factor for success has been, and will continue to be, the concept of meaningful use.”

“EHRs must be used to support a new kind of information-rich healthcare,” said Blumenthal. “Meaningful use provides, for the first time ever, a consensus goal on how information should be used to enhance care. To realize its promise also requires changes in the processes of care delivery.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleeen Sebelius, who promised a nationwide search for his successor at the time, said Blumenthal would leave his post “having built a strong foundation, created real momentum for HIT adoption, charted a course for the meaningful use of EHRs and launched a new phase of cooperative and supportive work with the healthcare community, states and cities across the nation.”

In his memo to ONC staff, Blumenthal reminded them that they helped put in place the $2 billion support system created by HITECH, including:

• 62 Regional Extension Centers (RECs), providing assistance to providers nationwide, with special attention to smaller primary care practices and rural hospitals.

• 84 community college programs to provide HIT training and build a vitally-needed HIT workforce, including training for nurses, physician assistants and other in-place healthcare workers.

• 17 Beacon communities, demonstrating how HIT can help bring community resources together to tackle specific local health needs.

• State grants to support local solutions for health information exchange, in agreement with broader national standards.

• A program of research and development to help continually improve EHRs and move quickly to the next level in HIT.