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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85 percent of the physicians surveyed indicated that they were not only aware of meaningful use but that they were going to participate.

So, are we where we want to be? No. Are we at ground zero? No. We’re probably moving up the chain in terms of getting the word out and participation. Because the first payment kicks in in March of 2011, I think we are in a good spot to now ramp up the first batch of certified applications, which is the list that doctors should choose from when they buy these applications, just got published October 1st, and will be growing with time. So I think now the market is getting a little more knowledgeable.

X: So people can now start to look at the examples and see what’s been certified.

AC: You can look at the certified applications, you can learn more about it. And I will make one more observation. We did something that I think has not really been featured in any research in this area, or published in any way. We funded a program called Regional Extension Centers. These are what I would call the Geek Squad for healthcare IT, whose mission is to knock on doors, talk to doctors, and support them all the way from what this program is to getting them installed to getting them to work with vendors in a way that’s more competitive for them. And those Regional Extension Centers are in every corner of the country. And we literally have a target of over 100,000 doctors served by these extension centers in the coming years. So it’s not just about getting the word out, it’s also about building up the capacity and the infrastructure to support physicians and hospitals who need the support in order to transition to this entirely new world from a technology standpoint.

X: I didn’t know about those extension centers.

AC: Yeah, we have a whole program, and they have a national support network. Actually its a great example of entrepreneurship. In order to stand up this instant virtual organization, they needed a capability to keep in touch with who has got what responsibility with what doctors, and in the spirit of cloud computing, they were early adopters of Salesforce.com’s government service. And so now they’re able to turn on their infrastructure and have a whole working organization in relatively short order, because they didn’t have time to do the typical five year government procurement cycle. They are going to come and go by the time that’s all said and done.

X: I want to switch gears slightly. I really liked your story about Bob, David, and Andrew at WestEd Interactive.

AC: Call them! They’re here in the Bay Area. WestEd.org.

X: I will. So my question is, it’s great to hear stories like that of the federal government being much more open to quickly adopting an innovation like that when it makes sense. But are there guidelines in place to encourage people who do that kind of innovating for the government to then take those ideas and turn them right back into products and profit? How can you engage with the government and be an entrepreneur?

AC: That’s the whole point. I mean, the Apps for Healthy Kids contest—I highlighted a graphic of an application called Smash Your Food. And the builder of that application had a day job. His wife was a nutritionist and they heard about the contest. And maybe it hit them at the right time or maybe there some other circumstances. But they were one of the award winners, and they came to the White House for the award ceremony, and I chatted them up. And the guy said, … Next Page »

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

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