HIMSS: National Health IT Coordinator Emphasizes IT Role As 'Circulatory System'

Blumenthal described experiences from a former role at Partners Healthcare in Boston, where, he said, he had a first-hand look at what electronic medical records can do when a patient prescription order turned up a request for sulfa drugs.

"In bright red letters came a warning, 'this patient is allergic,'" Blumenthal described. "My career flashed before my eyes, and I knew at that point this truly added value to my work."

He explained many of the regulatory steps the ONC has taken in recent months, which have included the Dec. 30, 2009 release of the interim final rule for "meaningful use" as it pertains to electronic medical records.

"Meaningful use" has become a persistent buzzword in health IT in the past year, as its guidelines will inform how physician practices, hospitals and other health care entities qualify for incentives under HITECH, the health care legislative piece of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

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On Tuesday, Blumenthal and HHS also released a proposal for how to test and certify electronic health records, for which HHS is now in its public comment period.

Blumenthal further explained the ongoing process to approve and process government grants for health care IT education, and urged the audience to stay focused on "beacon communities" and the development of Health Information Exchanges (HIE).

He insisted that "professionalism" will guide the push of IT into health care, suggesting that unless U.S. health care moves into the 21st century and adopt technology to create modern care delivery models, society won't "continue the social contract" with the industry.

"Without it [technology] they're crippled in their ability to serve patients and add value," Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal's suggestions come at a time when many vendors and channel partners alike are seeing unprecedented opportunity in health care as a vertical market. Blumenthal said IT would help health care professionals learn to invest in better systems and applications.

"Instead of hanging back, physicians and other professionals will be at the front," he said. "They will be demanding better applications and prioritizing these investments along with new additions to their practices."

Blumenthal was appointed the national coordinator for health IT, head of the Office of the National Coordinator at the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2009, succeeding Dr. Robert Kolodner.