Making the connection between information technology and improved patient care appears to be the impetus behind President Barack Obamas choice of David Blumenthal, M.D., to become the third national coordinator for health information technology at HHS.
Blumenthal, a 60-year-old internist who is director and founder of the Institute for Health Policy at 907-bed Massachusetts General Hospital, part of Partners HealthCare System in Boston, was praised for his policy experience, though he has relatively less experience working directly with healthcare IT. There is not a more appropriate selection than Dr. David Blumenthal as national coordinator to lead Americas health information technology efforts through this period of expansion and great promise, says Linda Kloss, chief executive officer of the American Health Information Management Association, in a written statement.
Blumenthal replaces Robert Kolodner, M.D., who has served in the role first on an interim basis beginning in 2006 and his role later became permanent.
Blumenthal is experienced in the rough and tumble politics of healthcare policymaking, according to various biographies either distributed by HHS when his appointment was announced or on Web sites of organizations to which he is a member. In 2007, Blumenthal became senior health adviser for Obamas presidential campaign and previously served on the White House Health Professional Advisory Group during the Clinton administration.
Before that, he was a staff member for Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). He also serves as an adviser on healthcare policy to the Open Society Institute, whose chairman is billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros. Blumenthal was named to sister publication Modern Healthcares list of the 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare in 2003, (36th), 2004 (42nd) and 2006 (68th). He was 36th on Modern Physicians 50 Most Powerful Physician Executives list.
While Blumenthal may not be coming out of the IT world, that might be just as well, according to Peter Basch, M.D., medical director for ambulatory clinical systems at MedStar Health, based in Columbia, Md. So why is a guy who is not an IT heavyweight a national coordinator? Basch asks rhetorically. I think he is the right person at this point in time. I think this next deployment needs to be care-centric rather than IT-centric. So, I think its important that the next person from a federal level see the bigger picture.
And Blumenthal knows well that low adoption rates of electronic health-record systems are still the norm at U.S. hospitals and doctors offices. Last year, the institute and other organizations, under contract with HHS, produced multiple reports on EHR penetration. The research contractors also established definitions of what constitutes an EHR.
Blumenthal is scheduled to join other researchers in the March 25 release of an EHR study to be published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.Submit a letter to the Modern Physician Reader Blog. Please include your name, title, company and hometown. Modern Physician reserves the right to edit all submissions.