David Blumenthal named new National Coordinator for Health IT

By Chip Means
10:25 AM

The Department of Health and Human Services has announced David Blumenthal, MD, as the Obama Administration's National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

Blumenthal will lead the implementation of a nationwide, interoperable, privacy-protected health information technology infrastructure, as called for in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to an HHS press release.

"I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to serve President Obama and the American people in the effort to harness the power of health information technology to modernize our healthcare system,” said Blumenthal. "As a primary care physician who has used an electronic record to care for patients every day for 10 years, I understand the enormous potential of this technology. President Obama has laid out a vision of health reform that is both inspiring and long overdue. We cannot make that vision a reality without the help of our most advanced computer technology."

"President Obama believes we must take serious steps to modernize our healthcare system in order to improve the health of all Americans, bring down costs and ensure sustained long-term economic growth," said HHS spokeswoman Jenny Backus. "Health information technology is a critical part of the President’s strategy to reform our healthcare system and as one of the nation’s leading health information technology experts, Dr. Blumenthal has the experience and the vision to help make this effort a reality."

Blumenthal is a practicing physician and a leading scholar on health information technology. His most recent position was as director of the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and Samuel O. Thier Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He was the founding chairman of AcademyHealth, the national organization of health services researchers, and was formerly a national correspondent for the New England Journal of Medicine. In the 1970s, he was a professional staff member on Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D-Mass.) Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research.

Industry experts commend Blumenthal choice

"I've worked with David Blumenthal for years," said John Halamka, MD, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess and Harvard Medical School. "He combines a broad knowledge of policy with a deep understanding of the impact of healthcare IT. A great choice!"

Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, chief of the Center for Connected Health, said, "The Obama administration has sent another uplifting message in the nomination of David Blumenthal as the National Coordinator for HIT. Dr. Blumenthal brings a wealth of relevant experience to the post. The health of our nation will improve due to his involvement."

"There is not a more appropriate selection than Dr. David Blumenthal as National Coordinator to lead America's Health Information Technology efforts through this period of expansion and great promise," said Linda L. Kloss, CEO of the American Health Information Management Association. "His selection by President Obama illustrates the Administration's unqualified commitment to serious healthcare reform and the vital role quality health information must play in this process."

Kolodner likely to head back to VA

Outgoing National Coordinator Robert Kolodner, MD, took the position in 2007. At that time, he told Healthcare IT News in an exclusive interview, "The key message here is I’m in a career position. This isn’t a political appointment. And this is a statement [on the part of HHS] that this is something that needs to transcend the administration and go forward into the next administration as long as such leadership adds value in achieving secure, interoperable health IT."

ONC was codified, or made permanent, in February under the new stimulus package. But, according to Justin Barnes, chair of HIMSS' Electronic Health Record Association, it was always understood by the industry that Kolodner himself would not be permanent.
"We always enjoyed working with Kolodner and his staff, and we look forward to working with him in other capacities in the future, but we weren't caught off-guard by his departure. We see the ONC position changing every few years, as it currently has," Barnes said.
"Dr. Kolodner did a great job in his position. He took over a very large responsibility and led it through some very key growth areas," Barnes said. "It's a natural evolution of the position that we now will have someone from the private sector like Dr. Blumenthal to build upon the foundation ONC has already laid and achieve the goals set forth in the stimulus package."
Barnes said it is highly likely Kolodner will return to the VA, with his given seniority.