Prof to Head Health IT – National Consumers League

by Mimi Johnson, NCL Health Policy Associate

The Obama Administration will announce its pick for the National Coordinator for health information technology later today. David Blumenthal, a professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital will oversee the nearly $20 billion dollars from the economic stimulus package to build health IT. Dr. Blumenthal worked for Senator Ted Kennedy’s Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research in the 1970s, and we are optimistic that his knowledge of and history in health policy will help move this country towards significant health reform.

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), within the Department of Health and Human Services, will work to use the stimulus money to provide incentives and reimbursements for the use of “hardware, software, integrated technologies or related licenses, intellectual property, upgrades, or packaged solutions sold as services that are designed for or support the use by health care entities or patients for the electronic creation, maintenance, access, or exchange of health information.” According to the ARRA, “the National Coordinator may provide financial assistance to consumer advocacy groups and not-for- profit entities,” which should provide for a stronger consumer voice as the various health IT provisions are implemented. The ONC is establishing an HIT Policy Committee , on which a handful of consumer advocates will serve.

Still, billions of dollars are not the silver bullet to improving health care. In a report last week, the difficulties of adopting health IT were discussed. Doctors struggle to make the transition – especially those in small practices. The National Consumers League will continue to work to ensure that the expansion of health IT will work to help improve quality and access for patients, as well as reduce disparities.