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What ONC Needs Now: Another Doc Who Listens

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, February 8, 2011

Shortly after David Blumenthal, MD, announced he would resign his post as national coordinator for health IT (a move that was planned when he was appointed two years ago) healthcare leaders began talking about what made him such an effective champion of electronic health systems and health information exchanges.

Two clear themes emerged. First, although has helped to set tough standards for healthcare organizations to achieve meaningful use of electronic health systems, he has also spent a lot of time listening to healthcare leaders, weaving their suggestions into those policies. And that MD after his name? That’s part of what makes him effective, too.

“He was open to having discussions with CIOs, discussing issues with us,” said Pamela McNutt, senior vice president and CIO at Methodist Health System and chair of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives’ policy steering committee. “He was very engaged in the topic and sensitive to our concerns,” she said in a CHIME release.

 “His real-world experience as a physician who adopted the technology enabled him to speak with experience about the challenges and rewards,” added David Muntz, senior vice president and CIO at Baylor Health Care System, who also serves on CHIME’s Board of Trustees and policy steering committee. “It was also his personal style, approachability, and interest as a listener that contributed to his success. You knew that he heard your point of view and trusted him to exercise good judgment in the face of many competing factors.”

The story Blumenthal tells of his early encounters with clinical technology are a good illustration of the power of having a doctor who listens driving the nation’s health IT agenda. At first skeptical about EMRs, he listened when his younger colleagues urged him to try the technology, and quickly recognized that it would make him a better doctor. He often tells the story of the day an EMR alerted him to the fact that he was about to prescribe a sulfur-based medication to a patient who was allergic to the ingredient, preventing a potentially fatal error.

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