Aneesh Chopra, Obama’s Chief Technology Officer, Talks About Health IT Geek Squads, Entrepreneurship Prizes, and “Data as a Policy Lever”

10/7/10Follow @wroush

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quit his job at Microsoft to commercialize the project. “The point is, by opening up government data we believe we’ve opened up a new channel of public participation,” said Chopra.

Chopra’s visit to San Francisco coincided with a sequence of healthcare information technology events this week on the West Coast. In addition to the Morgenthaler summit, the Health 2.0 conference gets underway today in San Francisco, and in La Jolla, CA, north of San Diego, the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance is holding its Wireless Health 2010 conference. Chopra said part of the point of his swing West was to spread the word about the new opportunities being opened up to entrepreneurs by changes in the way the government is administering bonus payments for the adoption of electronic medical record systems. One of the big changes is the advent of “modular certification”—meaning, in essence, that physicians and hospitals can get Stimulus Act incentive payments for adopting electronic medical records technologies piecemeal, as long as each piece meets government criteria for making “meaningful use” of electronic health record technology.

I spoke with Chopra about that and other subjects after his presentation at the Morgenthaler summit. A transcript of our conversation follows.

Xconomy: First a question on healthcare IT. One of the issues that has come up in our coverage a lot is that the companies we talk to who would like to be innovating in this space still don’t understand what is meant by “meaningful use,” and a lot of doctors who would like to be more sophisticated about using technology in their practices don’t quite understand yet what they would have to do to qualify for a “meaningful use” incentive. Is there clarity coming on what really constitutes meaningful use for electronic medical records?

Aneesh Chopra: First of all, thank you for the question. I would say one is never satisfied at the degree to which they’ve communicated a policy message. But that’s in part why we were here today. We were not only looking to speak to the folks in the room but hoping to communicate through the press and the webcast to all startups and to those who are in the ecosystem, so they’re more familiar with the facts.

I’m not so sure that it’s that they don’t know about meaningful use. Let me tell you what I’m hearing from the entrepreneurial community: It’s that they’ve heard of meaningful use, but they don’t believe that they can participate. Because they presume that they have to build an application where competitors have been in the market for 30 years. To catch up to them at this point, it’s like saying, well, “Am I going to build a startup to compete with Netflix?” So our policy decision to open up the market by allowing modules to be certified allows, now for the first time, entrepreneurs to compete not on the full list of applications, but on the specific areas where they think they can grow some particular competitive advantage in a niche.

Now, that’s the message that I am trying to communicate as loudly as I can. If you want to participate in the program, find the module where your application can sing, certify that module, and then proceed, because the ecosystem will support great applications and find a way to bring them to the physician community.

Now on the provider side, I don’t have a direct link to many of the providers. There are others in the Health and Human Services domain who are focused on the provider outreach. In fact, David Blumenthal [the Department of Health and Human Services' national coordinator for health information technology] has been giving keynote speeches to every major society. He is traveling all over the country. He has probably hit half of them at this point. So we are doing everything we can to get the word out in those medical communities. There was a survey conducted, and I think we have data that shows that … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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