Kolodner Named Interim Healthcare IT Leader

Les Bookoff

October 1, 2006

4 Min Read
Kolodner Named Interim Healthcare IT Leader

Late last month, Robert M. Kolodner, MD, joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS; Washington, DC) as the interim head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT; Washington, DC). Kolodner comes to the office from the Veterans Health Administration in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA; Washington, DC), where he has been serving as chief health informatics officer. He replaces David J. Brailer, MD, PhD, who served as the office's first occupant starting in May 2004.

Kolodner's appointment was made by HHS secretary Mike Leavitt. “He joins us at a time when we are making steady progress in advancing the president's health IT initiative, and his experience in patient care, health IT, and government will be invaluable to those efforts,” Leavitt said.

Kolodner's appointment was welcomed by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS; Chicago) and numerous other healthcare IT organizations. “For more than two decades, Rob Kolodner has played a critical role in helping the VA become one of the most cited and honored early adopters of healthcare information technology in general, and electronic medical records in particular,” said Fred Hannett, chair of the HIMSS government relations roundtable. “What better person to charge with maintaining the momentum established by David Brailer and HHS secretary Mike Leavitt to achieve the goal of a truly interoperable nationwide health information network?”

Since 1997, Kolodner has been involved in overseeing, promoting, and guiding VA activities related to the establishment of a comprehensive computerized clinical record for military personnel and veterans. He has been involved with the development and oversight of the administration's electronic health records systems, VistA, as well as My HealtheVet, a portal that enables veterans and their families to access health information, tools, and services via the Internet. He was also instrumental in establishing the Federal Health Information Exchange program, an interagency health technology initiative that supports improving care to veterans and strengthening the working relationship between the VA and the Department of Defense.

According to ONCHIT, Kolodner's longstanding interest in computers led to his early involvement with VA's efforts to use automation in support of mental healthcare. In 1983, he chaired the Mental Health Special Interest Users Group and helped lay the groundwork for the VA's decentralized hospital computer program. Since then he has held a variety of positions related to the enhancement of the VA's information technologies.

In taking the reins of ONCHIT, Kolodner inherits an office that has been historically underfunded, according to many in the healthcare IT realm. The 2006 congressional budget package earmarked $61.7 million for ONCHIT's operations. The amount included $42.8 million in direct funding and $18.9 million for discretionary spending. In the 2005 budget, Congress initially failed to appropriate any funding to ONCHIT, but did eventually provide about $33 million for the office. That makes the 2006 allocation an increase of 87%, although the amount falls $13.3 million short of President Bush's budget request.

ONCHIT was established by executive order in April 2004. The following month, Brailer was named to head the office. In spite of having to manage budget shortfalls while navigating an often-unwieldy bureaucracy, Brailer was widely regarded as a strong advocate for healthcare IT implementation.

Kolodner's long background in government significantly contrasts that of Brailer. Prior to his appointment, Brailer was a senior fellow at the Health Technology Center (San Francisco), a nonprofit research and education organization. He also served for 10 years as chairman and CEO of CareScience Inc., a provider of care management services and Internet-based solutions for hospitals.

Between Brailer's resignation and Kolodner's appointment, ONCHIT was without a leader for about four months. At press time, no firm deadline had been announced for the selection of a permanent coordinator.

© 2006 Canon Communications LLC

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