Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Honorable Mention

Who should be the next National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (HIT), i.e., the Director of the Office of the National Coordinator for HIT (ONC)? My name appeared recently on a list of 24 individuals nominated as a potential replacement for the current National Coordinator, Dr. David Blumenthal, who is leaving the post next month to return to academia at Harvard University.

Well, the results of the voting are in, and I was flattered to finish fifth, capturing 5.6% of the 736 votes cast. The winner of the poll was Jessica Kahn, Technical Director for HIT for Medicaid at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Following in a close second was Dr. Marc Chasin. Vice President and Chief Medical Informatics Officer at St. Luke's Health System in Boise, Idaho. I am delighted to report that Dr. Chasin is a former student of mine, having taken the 10x10 ("ten by ten") course.

I have to admit that I am ordinarily unswayed by magazine or Web polls that are completely unscientific and really just popularity contests. Still, I was flattered to be part of this. Perhaps, as they say in show business, any publicity is good publicity.

This all said, I don't think I will be leaving Oregon Health & Science University any time soon. I have waited my whole career for the situation I and the department I lead are currently in, seeing the maturation of our field and the resources now available to support education and research endeavors within it.

I also do not envy the person who actually replaces Dr. Blumenthal. Clearly the HITECH Act has, to use the terminology of Gartner Hype Cycle, hit its peak of expectations. Some of the programs are down in the trough of disillusionment, although I am confident that most if not all of them will eventually level off in the plateau of productivity. Given the current political state of Washington, DC, where scoring political points seems to have overtaken governing and producing value from government programs, the next National Coordinator is likely to spend a good deal of time in non-productive Congressional hearings. It's not that I don't think government bureaucrats, like everyone else, need to be held accountable, but it is unlikely the primary purpose of those hearings will be to report on the value to healthcare and economy that HITECH has wrought.

Being the optimist that I am, I am not dwelling too much on the current poisoned atmosphere in Washington, DC. I will certainly defend to anyone the productive investment that has been made the federal government in HIT. In our programs funded by educational grants, skills and leadership have been imparted on a new cadre of individuals, and the curricular materials we are producing will have a lasting impact on the primary goal of biomedical and health informatics, which is to improve human health, healthcare, biomedical research, and public health with information.

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