Obama names national health IT coordinator

Physician David Blumenthal will lead HHS efforts to direct spending of $19.5 billion in economic stimulus funds for health IT to advance implementation of the nationwide health information infrastructure.

President Barack Obama today named Boston physician David Blumenthal as the national coordinator for health information technology in the Health and Human Services Department (HHS). He will direct the department's efforts to spend $19.5 billion in economic stimulus funds for health IT to advance implementation of the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN).

The health IT infrastructure would let health care professionals share clinical data about patients with security and privacy protections, HHS has said.

Blumenthal, a practicing doctor and expert on health IT, was a senior health adviser for the Obama presidential campaign. He most recently served as a physician and director of the Institute for Health Policy at The Massachusetts General Hospital/Partners HealthCare System in Boston.

Blumenthal replaces Robert Kolodner, who had been the national coordinator since 2006 and who has overseen the technology and policy foundation for the NHIN. President George W. Bush created the position in 2004 with the goal of having electronic health records for most individuals by 2014.

“President Obama believes we must take serious steps to modernize our health care system in order to improve the health of all Americans, bring down costs and ensure sustained long-term economic growth,” Jenny Backus, an HHS spokeswoman said in a statement.

“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,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “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.”

Blumenthal’s appointment is an excellent choice because he is well versed in many aspects of health care, said Dan Pelino, general manager of healthcare initiatives at IBM, after a forum that IBM sponsored on health IT in the economic stimulus law.

“It signals that the administration is ready to move as fast as they need to move to meet the [law’s] deadlines,” he said. The stimulus law contains deadlines for specific accomplishments related to health IT.

Blumenthal has also been a professor of medicine and health care policy at Harvard Medical School. There, he also served as director of the Harvard University Interfaculty Program for Health Systems Improvement. Prior to that, he was senior vice president at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and served as executive director of the Center for Health Policy and Management and as a lecturer on Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. During the late 1970s, Blumenthal worked on Senator Edward Kennedy’s Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research.