Friday, February 4, 2011

Big Week for Health IT

A lot has happened in health information technology this past week...

On Wednesday February 2, 2010 the ONC announced the launch of real world implementations of the Direct Project services and protocols. The success of this project shows how effective the open collaborative approach embodied in the Direct Project can be, and this is already being used as a template for the Standards & Interoperability (S&I) Framework. This successful example of the innovative approach of using government as a platform will continue to have a resounding impact throughout the operations of government.
"This is a new way of doing the public's business, and it works," said Aneesh Chopra, the White House Chief Technology Officer. "Instead of the traditional top-down approach, it calls on stakeholders to work together in a more open and fast-moving way to achieve results. It makes government a platform for innovation by those who really know the field. Then it makes their work available for the public good, and it serves as a basis for competition among the very entities that brought it about. It is a new model of challenge and cooperation, and the Direct Project is an example of how effectively it works."
Then on Thursday, February 3, 2010 Kaiser Health News broke the story that Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, announced that he is stepping down this spring to return to his teaching post at Harvard University. Blumenthal announced his decision in a memo to his staff on Thursday, saying that he originally planned to stay in the office of national coordinator job for only two years when he accepted the position in March 2009, which was generally understood since he would be putting his tenure at risk if he stayed longer. In less than two years Dr. Blumenthal has done some incredible work at putting the billions of dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's HITECH Act into motion.

"David is a remarkable person who has really made a difference," said Dr. John Halamka, CIO at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

"The pace of EHR adoption, health information exchange, and quality measurement has rapidly accelerated during his tenure," said Halamka, who is also vice chair of the HIT Standards Committee, which makes recommendations about health IT standards to ONC. "I'm confident that the policy and technology foundation he has built will serve the country for years to come," said Halamka in an email interview with InformationWeek.

I think it is likely that Farzad Mostashari, MD, ScM, who serves as Deputy National Coordinator for Programs and Policy within the Office of the National Coordinator will eventually take the helm. This would be an excellent choice and provide not only continued excellent leadership with vision and enthusiasm, but also allow for a sense continuity within the ONC. This will be very important as increasingly difficult budget constraints are placed on federal operating budgets.

Other big news was that on Monday, January 31, 2010 U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that a provision of the health reform law requiring Americans over 18 to obtain insurance coverage exceeded the power of Congress to regulate commerce under the U.S Constitution. In his ruling he said he agreed with arguments that because the insurance mandate is central to the legislation, and there is no clause for severability, the entire legislation must be voided. The U.S. said it may seek to block the decision while it appeals. This is an issue that will definitely be decided by the Supreme Court and I'll be writing more about it, particularly the health information technology implications, in future posts.

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