National health IT coordinator Brailer resigns post but not going far

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Healthcare IT's first czar — David Brailer, MD, PhD — last week resigned his post as national coordinator for health information technology, citing personal reasons for his departure. Brailer has been a considerable and seemingly ever-present figure in the push towards health IT initiatives in this country over the past 2 years. The Bush Administration has set a 10-year goal (with 8 years to go) to create a way for every U.S. citizen to have a portable electronic health record, among other health IT initiatives. Brailer’s job was to set the ground work for this to happen and, he believes, this goal has been achieved.

One of Brailer’s challenges has been to eliminate roadblocks between hospitals, providers, technologies, and patients so that they can more easily communicate with each other. This has meant determining standards of communication between technologies, and looking at conflicts between federal and state laws. It’s the kind of work that would keep anyone busy, especially someone commuting to Washington from San Franscisco, such as Brailer.

Brailer told the Financial Times that the commute has been a “huge personal agony” and that his departure includes “no drama.” He also indicated that the health IT transformation this country is undergoing is a very long process and that anyone with expectations that he would see it all the way through is “highly unrealistic.”

Instead, Brailer leaves this post highly upbeat for the prospects of this process he has started and that the programs “wheels are turning.”

Michael O. Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), echoed these sentiments in comments yesterday, stating that “Over the past two years, David has made significant progress in advancing the President's health IT agenda and laying the building blocks for future progress.”

In reality, he will not be very far away anyway. Brailer has agreed to serve as the Vice-Chair of the American Health Information Community. The Community has the task of suggesting ideas to the Secretary of HHS for the further development and adopting of health IT standards.

“David has helped the Community identify promising breakthroughs for near-term progress while continuing to move us closer to longer-term health IT goals,” said Leavitt. “David will also continue to serve as a consultant to HHS to help lead the President's healthcare transparency initiative.”

Until a replacement for Brailer's position is announced, the work of the Office of the National Coordinator will continue under the leadership of the four permanent directors of the office, Leavitt said.