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New Era at ONCHIT

April 17, 2009
by David Raths
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It's hard to recall the arrival of a Health & Human Services employee being quite so eagerly anticipated as that of Dr. David Blumenthal, who takes charge of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology next Monday.

There is certainly a lot on his plate, with issues ranging from policies, standards and governance to funding details and the eagerly awaited definition of the term "meaningful use."

I just returned from a World Health Care Congress meeting in Washington that featured presentations by two ONCHIT staff members: Kelly Cronin and Chuck Friedman, as well as an interesting talk by Military Health System (MHS) CIO Chuck Campbell about progress on interoperability between Department of Defense and Veterans Administration systems, and the shift to a service-oriented architecture for MHS.

Next week I will post some detailed observations about those presentations, but the key shift in gears from the previous administration may be the recognition that the federal government had to play a stronger financial role in enabling health information exchange. It has become increasingly clear that the business case for private-sector entities to build the systems on their own is weak.

While the Bush administration laid the groundwork for EHR interoperability, it was inclined to establish ground rules but not put forth the funds to create a national e-health network.

Friedman noted that Blumenthal's understanding of the "public good" nature of health information exchange foresees a federal government role in providing funding to create and sustain mechanisms to support EHR interoperability. As I said above, next week I will post some more details about ONCHIT presentations at the World Health Congress. Stay tuned.


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