Kolodner Says U.S. Will Reach Pres. Bush’s 2014 EHR Goal

Although current levels of health-IT adoption may seem sluggish, the U.S. is on track to meet President Bush’s goal of bringing interoperable electronic health records to a majority of Americans by 2014, America’s health-IT czar said.

“We’re making good progress and we’ve aligned our programs to have success in the future,” national coordinator for health information technology Robert Kolodner told Digital HealthCare & Productivity last week in an interview at MedInfo 2007, a global meeting on healthcare informatics.

Later, in a keynote speech to this gathering of about 1,600 health-IT leaders from around the world, Kolodner talked of an “orchestra of activity” that makes him optimistic about the future of U.S. health care, including heightened interest in EHRs from physicians, standards development and harmonization, and the early results from a series of interoperability use cases the federal government is funding.

“In order to move the nation forward, you have to have a multi-pronged approach,” Kolodner said in the interview. He said there are “clusters of activity” around governance, policy, technology, and adoption strategies.

Kolodner called the first year of certification of EHRs a “remarkable success,” as about 40 percent of the known universe of ambulatory EHR vendors in the U.S. earned certification, exceeding Kolodner’s expectations.

Even though his job no longer is a political appointment, but rather a position for a career federal employee, Kolodner is continuing down the path set out by his predecessor, David Brailer on behalf of the Bush administration, a path Kolodner calls a “leveraged, tipping-point approach,” with a small amount of government investment and a lot of prodding.

That may simply be the pragmatic course of action, though, as dozens of health-IT bills remain bottled up in congressional committees, despite what Kolodner called a “unique” consensus in Washington on the need for EHRs in this era of divided government and uncivil politics.

Kolodner also addressed the controversial plan to transition the American Health Information Community (AHIC) advisory board to the private sector. “We’re moving this from a public-private advisory group to a public-private group in the private sector with a substantial role for the federal government, so the federal government isn’t shirking its responsibilities,” he said. “It is advisory, so it doesn’t make decisions.”

Kolodner referred to some recent comments by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. The secretary called the current iteration of AHIC “version 1.0,” and compared the entity to a booster rocket. Now that the program has lifted off, stage 1 is set to fall off and give way to “AHIC 2.0.”

“AHIC 1.0 was meant to get momentum,” Kolodner said.

More will be known Sept. 5, when an AHIC committee meets to work on some particulars. Kolodner said to expect a final announcement on the future of AHIC by November, which will then trigger a transition period tentatively set to run through March 2008.

“It’s a voluntary membership organization that we envision,” Kolodner said.

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