HHS expects new health IT czar by summer

The Health and Human Services Department anticipates naming a new national coordinator for health IT by the end of summer, said David Brailer, the outgoing first national coordinator for health IT.

Brailer, who resigned last week, will remain in his post until May 19 and lead the search for the next national coordinator. HHS is also seeking a deputy coordinator, he added.

Brailer had planned to stay two years when President Bush selected him in 2004 to jump-start national efforts to promote adoption of health IT to improve health care quality and reduce costs. He said he expected to return to the private sector but had no set plans following his resignation. He has been commuting between San Francisco, where his family resides, and Washington, D.C.

Brailer will serve as vice chairman of the American Health Information Community, a public-private advisory group led by HHS secretary Mike Leavitt.

AHIC makes recommendations on the early uses of health IT, such as for electronic health records, bio-surveillance, chronic care and personal health record systems.

Despite the looming staff vacancies, HHS' health IT efforts will stay on course, Brailer said. 'We're ahead of our schedule. We've gotten much deeper buy-in than what we hoped for,' Brailer told reporters in a teleconference yesterday. He doesn't expect a new coordinator to change course.

The two challenges that he says worry him most remain closing the health IT adoption gap by reducing the investment risk for physicians, especially in small practices, when they deploy electronic systems, and making health information portable

Brailer also will stump for HHS' transparency initiative, in which health plans will be encouraged to post online costs for major services so consumers can compare and choose the providers that best fit their needs.

Brailer did not rule out returning to Washington, perhaps when health care reform takes center stage. 'Health IT is best pushed forward in the presence of a comprehensive health policy,' he said.

Under Brailer's leadership, HHS has awarded contracts to develop standards for interoperable electronic health records, product certification, a nationwide health information network architecture and evaluation of variations in state privacy laws.

He also has proposed exceptions to the Stark anti-fraud and anti-kickback laws to let hospitals help physicians acquire health IT. The final rule on the exceptions should be published soon, Brailer said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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