HIMSS Keynote: Blumenthal maps ONC's recent past, daunting future

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David Blumenthal, MD, MPP, national coordinator for health information technology for the Department of Health and Human Services

ATLANTA -- “You have been leaders and we want you to continue to be leaders and we will follow your lead,” said David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health IT, in his March 3 keynote at HIMSS10. Speaking to a capacity crowd, Blumenthal outlined the ONC’s accomplishments of the past 10 months and the work still ahead.

Blumenthal said he came to his current role not as an IT champion, but because “about 10 years ago an electronic health record landed on my desk courtesy of my employer. I was trained with paper, I was comfortable with paper, I liked my prescription pad … I didn’t really see the need to change,” he said.

But, “gradually, slowly, I learned that the EHR was making me a better doctor … I came to understand that information is the lifeblood of healthcare, and Health IT is destined to be the circulatory system.”

That point was reiterated when the president announced the goal of making EHRs available to all Americans by 2014, he said. Through ARRA, HITECH and CMS proposals for meaningful use, “we have very powerful weapons” to make that happen, "but also very tight timeframes,” he said. “The primary goal is to bring those tools to life to support your work . . . We are growing and we have a dedicated and hard-working group, but we continue to need your support and advice.”

Blumenthal called attention to some accomplishments during the past year. Working with CMS, “[w]e laid out in black and white what to expect from health IT systems … Many countries are further ahead in terms of implementing technology, but none have a vision as comprehensive as this, said Blumenthal.   

“Every element in the meaningful use matrix has a direct link to [improved] patient health and improved efficiency for the healthcare system.”

With regard to the Interim Final Rule, “we tried hard to balance certainty in form of standards against flexibility, to meet providers where they are in addition to where we hope they will be. We want to make sure standards put into regulations would not inhibit critical innovation,” Blumenthal said.

“This is the first step in the regulatory process. This will be an evolving set of standards and cert criteria,” he said. All of this amounts to social change, so it is “essential to support change from many directions at once.”

Looking ahead, Blumenthal said, “you have to focus on community if you want to change healthcare.” The Beacon Communities initiative will support this. And the health IT workforce program will bring as many as 40,000 new workers into the workforce.