Healthcare IT is generating plenty of headlines. So, who in government is helping lead the next evolution in healthcare? ExecutiveBiz recently brought that question to federal contractors. Here’s their tally of government leaders who are proving the go-to people for guidance and direction in helping shape the healthcare IT conversation. Who would you add to the list?
A year ago, this month, Boston physician and Health IT expert Dr. David Blumenthal was named National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Blumenthal's new role came on the heels of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), which earmarked $19 billion for healthcare providers to upgrade their IT infrastructure. Soon after, Blumenthal was named chairman of a federal advisory committee on health information technology policy and standards. Along the way, Blumenthal has helped shape a national standard for “meaningful use“ “” a definition that will determine how billions in federal funds for health IT are distributed over the coming years.
As program director for the Federal Health Architecture, Vish Sankaran has been supporting CONNECT, an open-source application developed for secure information exchange as part of The Health and Human Services Department's Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN). By fall 2009, 20 federal agencies had committed to its adoption. “Our role is to tip the market “¦ we expect to see more momentum,“ said Sankaran, to Federal Computer Week. Sankaran has also stated that he wants to make health information exchange a “commodity, with an ecosystem of buyers and sellers.“ So far, that goal is coming to pass. Roughly 20 vendors are now developing products that are compatible with CONNECT.
This past May, Dr. Thomas Frieden was named Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Expectations are now high that Frieden will help lead the discussion of electronic health records on a nationwide scale. During his days as New York City Health Commissioner, Frieden actively promoted the use of EHRs for primary care physicians. Under his watch, the New York City Health Department implemented the largest community of EHRs nationwide, as part of a project that focused on giving prevention-oriented information to physicians. Those efforts have since served as a model for national implementation of EHRs.
He serves as senior advisor to the Secretary and Chief Technology Officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs. It's now up to Dr. Peter Levin to fix this second largest agency's claims process, which has (charitably) been called out-of-date. Taking a step toward automated systems, Levin has helped direct a grassroots innovation effort: gathering the best ideas from VA employees and various veterans service organizations to strengthen claims processing and provide greater transparency to recipients. It’s the latest step since Levin was appointed to his role in June 2009 and was tapped to identify new technologies and innovations that promote greater reliability, accessibility, and reduced cost.
In the year since she was named administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Dr. Mary Wakefield has overseen a key initiative: a federal database that lists disciplinary actions against health providers. Congress called for the database more than two decades ago, but it only became available to hospitals in early March … and not without a few ripples. A joint ProPublica-Los Angeles Times investigation found that the database was missing thousands of disciplinary cases against health providers. As HRSA administrator, Wakefield was quick to move in. She called for an audit, offered states technical help, and sent a letter to each state governor stating that those agencies that don't report disciplinary actions to the database would be publicized. Under Wakefield’s guidance, expect the database to rise to the task.
Recently, the Office of Management and Budget called for the development of a Health Information Technology (HIT) Task Force to “facilitate implementation of the President's HIT agenda through better coordination among federal agencies involved,“ according to an OMB memo. Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra, along with Federal CIO Vivek Kundra and OMB Health Program Associate Director, will be vice chairs of the group. Chopra's been busy with other health-related ventures. Recently, Chopra announced the federal government has launched a new partnership across government agencies and private industry to help pregnant women and new mothers keep their babies health. “Text4baby“ is the first free mobile health service to be taken to scale in the United States,“ says Chopra. “[It] represents an extraordinary opportunity to expand the way we use our phones, to demonstrate the potential of mobile health technology “¦“
Since joining the Health and Human Services Department as chief technology officer in August 2009, Todd Park has been busy developing an open government plan of his own. Those efforts include helping to establish a working group, which Park heads, to develop the plan. Projects in the works include an online health map that, according to Information Week, will help citizens, employers, and others better grasp the healthcare systems in their local communities and how they compare to those elsewhere. According to NextGov, HHS is also building a toolkit to encourage people across the agency to engage in widespread staff blogging. Park's past experience is helping him meet those goals. He served as co-founder and board director of AthenaHealth, a practice management company. He was also a healthcare-management consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton.
As director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Dr. Carolyn Clancy has become a vocal proponent of wide-scale adoption of EHRs. That adoption, she has said, can dramatically improve population health research. Clancy says the key to unlocking the capabilities of health IT for research is through distributed data networks, linked by a shared data infrastructure. “Health IT is critical and indispensable but people have to organize the information “¦ that is really the promise of patient-centered health research,“ said Clancy, according to Government Health IT. Among projects being called for is one involving “horizon scanning,“ to “provide AHRQ with a systematic process to identify and monitor healthcare technologies that are likely to have a high clinical system and cost impact in the US.“
You can't have a conversation about healthcare IT without Rick Friedman's name coming up. As director of CMS's Division of State Systems “” and a pioneer of MITA (Medicaid Information Technology Architecture “”Friedman has been instrumental in fusing Medicaid with health IT. MITA advances the concept that systems should be service-enabled, as well as componentized with services that can be called from and used by other systems. That technology can serve states well, when it comes to health IT and the creation of state and health information exchanges, which have hefty data requirements that go beyond simply managing beneficiaries consent.
This past summer, Cindy Mann traded in her role as research professor and executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute to become Director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations (CMSO), part of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Mann’s current work includes overseeing $100 million in grants for health IT projects in 18 states for children enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). “These grants will test the most current theories of how to improve the quality of care delivered to children,” says Mann. “These awards will help create the foundation for a more responsive and effective national system of high quality healthcare for children.”
NEXT WEEK: Check out our list of Healthcare IT Game Changers on the industry side.