Dr. Robert Kolodner Appointed Interim National Health-IT Coordinator

WASHINGTON—New interim national health-IT coordinator Robert Kolodner, M.D., will draw on his experience as an informatics specialist at the Veterans Health Administration (VA) in advancing the agenda set forth by his predecessor, Kolodner said here Monday.

In his first public speech since being named interim replacement for David Brailer, M.D., who resigned in May, Kolodner said that IT is "one of the enablers" to help rein in soaring healthcare costs and raise the level of care delivered. However, he broke little new ground, mostly promising to stay the course that Brailer charted towards the Bush administration's goal of delivering interoperable electronic health records (EHRs) to most Americans by 2014.

"I am now the interim national coordinator and will be so for a few months," Kolodner said, indicating that his term likely will be a short one. He noted that he officially is on detail from his job as chief health informatics officer at the VA, and that the search for a permanent coordinator continues.

The administration's vision, as articulated by Brailer, includes EHRs that promote quality care, seamlessly integrated with public health and biosurveillance systems. "What we have right now is not a system at all. It's a series of isolated stovepipes, and not a system that works well together." Kolodner said.

What Kolodner did add to the discourse is that he expects to convert naysayers and build momentum by holding the VA up as an example of how investment in IT can transform healthcare with the help of performance measures and accountability. "If it can happen to a crusty bureaucracy like that [at the VA] with all of the oversight and all the barriers that go on there, just imagine if we bring that energy and that intention to the community," he said.

Kolodner mostly summarized the well-known plans of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, but did, however, give a hint at work that has been completed since Brailer vacated the office four months ago, and what to expect in the near future.

"Just last week, we achieved a significant milestone with the approval of three interoperability specifications," Kolodner said. He was referring to the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel, which had promised detailed recommendations on technical standards for biosurveillance, consumer empowerment, and EHRs by late September.

Coming soon will be more activities to encourage health information exchange at the state and regional levels, according to Kolodner. "These include building on the work that's going on with the intrastate consensus-building bodies and fostering the collaboration across the various states," he said. "You need to coordinate at the national level, but the real progress will be made at the state and local levels."
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