Blumenthal’s Departure: Odd Timing

Yesterday morning, in a podcast interview with Neil Versel, a respected HIT journalist, I was asked to compare the mood at last year’s HIMSS meeting with my expectations for this year’s assembly. In 2010, I listened as David Blumenthal, head of ONC, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd, whipping up a frenzy of excitement about ARRA and its EHR incentives in what I can only describe as a pep rally. I told Neil that I anticipate a more subdued and somewhat anxious atmosphere at this year’s meeting, since the practical realities and challenges associated with the complexities of meaningful use have set in. A recent survey of hospital CIOs, for example, revealed reduced confidence in the ability of their respective institutions to successfully meet the requirements within the allotted timeframes, and a resulting skepticism about whether they would earn the incentives. Similarly, at the recent 2-day hearings conducted by the Adoption and Certification Workgroup, the generally positive sentiment was tempered by concerns about operational issues, timing, IT workforce challenges, and the multitude of government programs on the plates of practices.

Then, yesterday afternoon, the news broke that David Blumenthal is stepping down from his post as the national leader of the EHR adoption and incentives program. Although we all know that no single individual is ever indispensible, the timing of his departure struck me as quite odd. The program is at the precipice—its launch is just underway and the first attestations of meaningful use are expected in April. Initial success or failure will be evidenced imminently. One would think that this would be the time to demonstrate stability and unwavering commitment from the top down—a time to rally all of the forces to ensure the program’s success.

I cannot help wondering the following:

  • Why is Blumenthal stepping down now, when the program is at such a critical juncture?
  • Why is HHS Secretary Sebelius just now “conducting a national search for the right successor” even though she reports that it was always the plan that Dr. Blumenthal would end his term at this point?
  • What are the implications for the EHR incentives program?
  • Will his departure affect the likelihood of its success?
  • How will provider confidence in the program be impacted?
  • Should we expect changes in the program? What kind of changes?

Please share your thoughts on David Blumenthal’s departure by commenting below.

4 thoughts on “Blumenthal’s Departure: Odd Timing

  1. I read somewhere that it had something to do with tenure at Harvard. Not sure if that’s true or not.

    I wasn’t surprised that he stepped down. You could tell he wasn’t in it for the long haul. Although, the timing was a bit off. Although, by announcing it now, he can enjoy HIMSS a lot more I think. The government muzzle won’t be quite as tight and maybe he’ll offer up some real insight from his point of view. Or maybe we’ll have to wait another few months for him to be officially out before we get that.

    I think it is a loss for ONC because I think Blumenthal was sincere and deliberate in his approach to a very difficult situation.

  2. Blumenthal might be leaving before the roof collapses. EMRs currently are not and likely will not deliver positive economic advantages nor contribute to patient safety. The only demonstrated advantages to the MD are clearer electronic prescription delivery and enhanced billing speed. Studies show so far a negative impact in other areas. Even the electronic delivery of controlled substance prescriptions is in doubt as DEA approval for this is undefined (although a requirement) and there is no budget for approval of transfer systems nor for personnel to due this even if standards were published. A Blumenthal replacement must be a techno savvy M.D. if there is any hope for the claimed benefits.

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