Obama’s Health IT Chiefs on Tap for Governor Patrick’s Big Health Technology Ball

3/17/10

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many of the government officials on the guest list, covering those bills with revenue generated by the conference, according to David Martin, director of policy at the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Blumenthal—who was a physician and policy head at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston before he took his job in the Obama administration—is in charge of the President’s multibillion-dollar initiative to develop a national infrastructure for exchanging electronic health data. One of Blumenthal’s big tasks is to lead a process to establish the all-important “meaningful use” standards for electronic health record systems, due to be out later this year. Companies need to make sure their health IT products help doctors and hospitals to comply with these standards, for doctors to earn incentives for their use of electronic health records.

“Having these kinds of policymakers in Massachusetts is significant to us is because we have thousands of providers in Massachusetts that are on our network,” says John Hallock, a spokesman for Watertown, MA-based Athenahealth (NASDAQ:ATHN), which provides physicians with Web-based software and services to manage their billing and to store electronic health records. “Our customers are concerned about how the government plans to define ‘meaningful use.’”

Athenahealth, which plans to participate in the conference, has an entire department dedicated to gaining new customers through government-funded programs around the U.S. to establish health information systems, according to Hallock. The company has recently sent in a proposal to officials in Massachusetts, which got a $13.4 million grant from the federal government last month to create a so-called regional extension center. The Massachusetts e-Health Institute, a nonprofit that Patrick designated to operate the center, is reviewing proposals from Athena and other electronic health record (EHR) firms to decide which ones will be certified to provide EHRs to some 2,500 physicians who qualify for services from the center.

Exact statistics on the economic impact of the health IT industry in Massachusetts are hard to come by, according to Martin, of the state’s health office, and others. However, it’s safe to assume that the companies in this sector employ thousands of workers and generate revenue that is easily in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Athena, for one, reported this week that its annual revenue in 2009 grew 38 percent from the prior year to $188.5 million. Other Massachusetts-based firms in the health IT sector such as eClinicalWorks and Phase Forward (NASDAQ:PFWD) also reported double-digit-percentages of revenue growth for 2009, a year in which business was down dramatically in other industries such as manufacturing and construction.

When the Patrick administration brings in government and healthcare officials for the conference in Boston next month, it wants to showcase such success stories and pave the way for future growth in its health IT industry.

“Massachusetts has a leadership position in health information technology, and has for a while,” Martin says. “We want to make sure people know that Massachusetts is the place to go for health information technology, particularly as federal funding ramps up.”

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