Primary care societies give outgoing national health IT chief high marks

David Blumenthal, MD, led an office that some physician organizations say responded to doctors' concerns about health information technology standards.

By Doug Trapp — Posted Feb. 15, 2011

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The outgoing director of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology did a good job of adjusting federal health IT goals to meet conditions in physician practices and focusing technology on improving clinical outcomes, according to representatives of at least two national primary care medical societies.

David Blumenthal, MD, announced in a Feb. 3 memo to his staff that this spring he will leave his position as national health IT chief under the Dept. of Health and Human Services. He will return to teaching positions at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, which he said he planned to do when he took the HHS position about two years ago. Harvard faculty lose their positions if they take sabbaticals of more than two years, according to Harvard Medical School spokesman David Cameron.

Dr. Blumenthal said he was privileged to accept the position soon after the federal government pledged up to $27 billion in incentives for health IT adoption through the 2009 economic stimulus package, when HHS started to define national standards for electronic medical records.

"Meaningful use provides, for the first time ever, a consensus goal on how information should be used to enhance care," Dr. Blumenthal said.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the nation turned the corner on EMR adoption during Dr. Blumenthal's two years as the technology office director. "The successful adoption and use of health information technology is fundamental to virtually every other important goal in the reform of our health care system."

The final meaningful use rule, issued in July 2010, incorporated more clinical support tools and had more of a focus on patient outcomes than the proposed rule, said American College of Physicians Senior Vice President Michael S. Barr, MD. "ONC was particularly responsive to professional societies."

The final rule gave physician practices more flexibility to meet the meaningful use standards and qualify for the federal incentive payments, Dr. Barr said.

For example, the technology office has allowed small practices to use less expensive communications software instead of requiring them to use the same systems as hospitals and larger practices, said Steven Waldren, MD, director of the Center for Health IT at the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Dr. Waldren said some of the more than 60 regional health IT support centers -- set up by the technology office to advise physicians and others on adoption -- have not been as well-prepared as others. However, he said the technology office didn't have much time to create these offices under deadlines established by the stimulus package.

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