Kolodner becomes permanent national coordinator of health IT

By Nancy Ferris
01:00 AM
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Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt appointed Dr. Robert Kolodner today as the permanent national coordinator for health information technology.

Kolodner has been the interim head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT) since September 2006. As chief health informatics officer at the Veterans Affairs Department before joining HHS, Kolodner oversaw the development of the VA's e-health record system, the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture.

The new health IT chief was appointed as a career official rather than a political appointee, so his appointment could outlast the Bush administration.

Kolodner said in an interview today that he has been authorized to make changes at ONCHIT all along despite his interim status. As a result, his newly permanent appointment won't mean many changes there.

"What I'll be doing tomorrow is in line with what I was doing yesterday," he said.

He is hiring a handful of additional staff members and working on fleshing out ONCHIT's strategic plan, which is due by the end of this fiscal year. A popular figure in the health IT community, Kolodner is more accustomed to the ways of the federal government than was his predecessor, Dr. David Brailer.

"I'll be putting more emphasis on collaboration among agencies within HHS and with other departments, so that we align and leverage each other's activities," he said. "We get bigger bang for the buck when we align our activities." He said he would like to work with VA and Defense Department as they investigate the feasibility of joint development of an inpatient EHR.

Speaking more broadly about health IT, Kolodner said, "this isn't really about technology. It's about having the health care system become more focused around the individual, and having the individuals have more of the resources they need in order to manage their own health better." It's also about increasing the value obtained for health care costs, he added.

Kolodner also mentioned the importance of protecting patients' privacy as their medical records become available on a national network.

"Rob's experience, dedication and enthusiasm have been evident in his work at the Veterans Health Administration and here at HHS since September," Leavitt said in a statement. "I appreciate his ongoing commitment to advance the use of health IT to improve the safety, efficiency and value of health care for consumers and to increase their ability to manage their health, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with him."

Brailer was the first to hold the national coordinator post. He resigned last year to return to his home in California.

Kolodner's long-standing interest in IT and his training as a psychiatrist led to his early involvement with the VA's efforts to use IT in support of mental health care and later his leadership in developing a single EHR for coordinating care throughout the VA.