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Blumenthal Rejoins HMS

By Benjamin M. Scuderi, Crimson Staff Writer

David Blumenthal ’70 will return to his position at Harvard Medical School in March after spending two years as the national coordinator for health information technology at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.

Blumenthal, a professor of medicine at the Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a memo to his staff Thursday that he had always planned on leaving the position after two years. Harvard professors lose tenure after two years of absence, according to University policy.

Blumenthal spent his tenure at HHS overseeing the digitization of medical records as part of the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, a piece of the Obama administration’s stimulus package.

The act provides up to $27 billion for doctors and hospitals that demonstrate “meaningful use” of health information technology. Blumenthal directed the creation of standards for “meaningful use” and the implementation of other HITECH act projects.

“Under the leadership of David Blumenthal and his entire team at the [Office of the National Coordinator], we have made significant strides in the implementation of [electronic health records],” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius in an email message announcing Blumenthal’s departure to HHS staff.

David J. Brailer, the first national coordinator for health IT told Kaiser Health News that Blumethal had served a successful tenure.

“He’s taken all the good things that we got started and laid it into a very durable, much more sophisticated framework,” Brailer said. “We had an upstart insurgent group and he turned it into a standing, legitimate agency.”

Kennedy School Professor Richard J. Zeckhauser ’62 said that Blumenthal had been preparing for the job for years. As director of the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital, Blumenthal oversaw the implementation of new technologies. Zeckhauser said that Blumenthal had been praised “across the political spectrum” for his work at HHS.

“I think it’s good for Harvard,” Zeckhauser said of Blumenthal’s departure from the government. “It’s a little disappointing for the nation,” he added.

Zeckhauser, who has collaborated with Blumenthal in the past, said he looks forward to being able to work with him again.

Prior to his appointment, Blumenthal had been a health policy adviser to President Obama’s campaign and had worked for three years on former Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s ’54-’56 health policy staff. He also served as a senior vice president at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a lecturer at the Kennedy School, from which he earned an M.P.P. degree.

-Staff writer Benjamin M. Scuderi can be reached at bscuderi@college.harvard.edu

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