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National health IT chief to step down

Lucas Mearian | Feb. 4, 2011
Blumenthal to return to Harvard; HHS to begin national search for new IT chief

FRAMINGHAM 4 FEBRUARY 2011 - Less than two years after being appointed by President Barack Obama as the nation's top health IT official, Dr. David Blumenthal announced that he will step down from his post this spring.

As the national coordinator for health IT, Blumenthal led the healthcare industry's incremental and ongoing changeover from paper to electronic records. In a memo to his staff, Blumenthal said he will return to his teaching position at Harvard University.

"As you know, I have told Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius that I will be returning to my academic home this spring, as was planned when I accepted the position," Blumenthal said in the memo. "While we still have important work to do together, including the assurance of a productive transition for [our office], now is the time for me to express my deep gratitude to all of my ... colleagues, and my admiration for all you have accomplished."

Blumenthal's boss, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, said in a memo to her staff that Blumenthal "created momentum" in pushing health IT forward.

"In the last two years, our nation has finally turned the corner in our critically important journey to the use of health information technology (HIT), particularly the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs)," the memo reads. "Under the leadership of David Blumenthal and his entire team at [the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC)], we have made significant strides in the implementation of EHRs."

According to Sebelius, Blumenthal had planned to return to Harvard before two years had passed, which is a requirement at the school for professors who want to maintain tenure. But in announcements at the time of his appointment, there was no mention by Blumenthal that he planned to serve only two years.

Obama appointed Blumenthal, 62, as the nation's health IT coordinator in March 2009. Sebelius said her office will now conduct a national search to find "the right successor."

Blumenthal led efforts under the $27 billion Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act to help the nation's healthcare system change from paper-based records to electronic records. At the root of that effort is a program that would provide up to $64,000 per physician in incentive payments for those who meet standards that demonstrate that they are engaged in "meaningful use" of EHR systems.

There is still some controversy over whether EHRs would streamline healthcare and provide significant benefits to providers and patients, or whether adding more computerization would simply bog down established processes.


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