HHS names permanent health IT czar

Robert Kolodner, the interim coordinator for health IT, gets the job permanently

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) yesterday announced the appointment of Robert Kolodner to head the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

Kolodner, the former chief health informatics officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, had been serving as interim coordinator since September 2006.

The selection comes almost a year to the day after David Brailer, the Bush administration's first point man for health IT, said he was stepping down.

Kolodner's experience, dedication and enthusiasm for health IT issues have been evident in his work at the VA and at HHS, said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt in a statement. "I appreciate his ongoing commitment to advance the use of health IT to improve the safety, efficiency and value of health care for consumers and to increase their ability to manage their health, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with him."

Kolodner's appointment is effective immediately.

President Bush created the national coordinator's office in 2004 to oversee efforts to ensure that every American has access to an electronic health record (EHR) by 2014. Kolodner, who will serve as principal adviser to Leavitt on all health IT issues, is also charged with overseeing the development of a nationwide network for hospitals, physicians, insurers and others to be able to electronically transmit patient records to reduce medical errors and improve quality of care.

Many industry insiders have said that the search for Brailer's replacement was likely hampered by the hesitation of people to take a political appointment near the end of Bush's presidency -- and by the fact that many private sector health IT leaders are just now getting their own EHR projects off the ground.

In his job, Kolodner will likely have to address concerns about his office's efforts to ensure security and privacy protection in the national EHR infrastructure. In early February, the U.S. General Accountability Office released a report charging that HHS had not yet come up with a way to tie together various initiatives involving the security and privacy of electronic patient records. Several weeks later, a member of the committee tasked with providing recommendations to Kolodner's office resigned over concerns about the lack of progress on security and privacy work aimed at EHRs.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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