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Informatics pro chosen to execute e-Health plan for TN
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e-Health collaboration momentum is growing

Will Rice a former Vanderbilt University informatics consultant, has been chosen to lead Tennessee's strategic e-Health information and technology initiatives.

Rice reports to State Finance-Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz, who announced Rice's appointment as executive director of the Office of e-Health Initiatives, on Wednesday.

Rice (at right), 36, takes the reins of the organization at a time of rampant political, economic and technologic change.  He will serve as pivot-person for a broad array of State-driven initiatives and the potential linchpin of a diverse network of public and private constituents.

Rice's duties, for example, call for him to serve as an ex officio member of the board of the nonprofit Health Information Partnership for Tennessee (HIP TN).  Rice's boss, Goetz, is a public-sector member of the HIP TN board of directors.

HIP TN's mission is to improve the quality of the state's healthcare by advancing health-information exchanges and complementary initiatives. The group's board includes executives from Eastman Chemical, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, CIGNA Healthcare, AARP Tennessee, and Tennessee's Pharmacists and Medical Associations, among others.

The State's e-Health allies have proven adept at winning funding for key initiatives, some of which have been closely watched at the national level.

Within roughly the past six months, alone, Tennessee has announced receiving about $25 million in e-Health and training grants.  The state's e-Health allies are pursuing further funding under massive federal Stimulus initiatives that will advance health IT adoption and regional information exchanges.

Toward such ends, the e-Health group last year announced hiring the law firm of Manatt Phelps & Phillip and its Health Solutions division to help Tennessee pursue ARRA/Stimulus funding.  The firm was founded by Chuck Manatt, onetime head of the Democratic National Committee, a co-chairman of the 1992 Clinton/Gore campaign and former FedEx Corp. board member.

Prior to his appointment this week, Rice was a health informatics senior consultant with the Vanderbilt Center for Better Health (VCBH), focusing on applying health information technology to improve patient care.  In that role, he supported operations of regional health-information exchange organizations, including the Memphis-centered MidSouth eHealth Alliance and fledgling Middle Tennessee eHealth Connect, a fledgling regional health information organization centered in Nashville.

Prior to that, he was a health IT consultant with the Foundation for eHealth Initiative; and, a consultant with the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHRQ), where, according to biographical material online, Rice "developed business, technology and marketing strategies..."

The AHRQ was a key source of funding for the Bredesen Administration's Volunteer eHealth Initiative, which helped spawn, among other things, the Memphis health-information Alliance that Rice supported while at Vanderbilt.

During the years 1997-2001, Rice was a senior designer with Nashville-based HealthStream Inc.  VNC research indicates his HealthStream work centered around graphic design of user interfaces for the NASDAQ-listed company.

Rice earned his master in biomedical informatics (MBI) at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) School of Medicine, in 2009; and, a bachelor's in fine arts at Washington University, in 1996.

In his new role, Rice may be getting an assist from former Vanderbilt colleague Vicki Estrin (at left), who left the staff of the VCBH last fall to join C3 Consulting LLC, a consulting firm.  While at VCBH, Estrin was detailed to work closely with regional health information exchanges in Tennessee and is now C3's healthcare managing consultant.  From C3, Estrin is working closely with HIP TN.

Rice is the fourth person to lead the e-Health unit since its creation by Gov. Phil Bredesen's Executive Order 35, four years ago.  Rice's predecessors in the e-Health office include attorney Melissa Hargiss, who resigned in January, after more than a year as acting director and then director; and, Antoine Agassi (at right), who was the State's first full-time e-Health leader and who left that role after more than two years' service to join Brentwood-based Cogent Healthcare as chief information officer. In addition, Goetz, who has continually and closely supervised the executive directors, supervised the office directly during the interim between Hargiss and Rice.

Generally low-profile Hargiss made a bit of news in December when she reportedly told a gathering sponsored by the Tennessee Medical Association that providers might be wise to hold in abeyance information-technology spending plans, pending resolution of federal Stimulus funding and outcomes-improvement criteria.

Those "meaningful use" criteria for qualifying for federal subsidies for health IT expenditures remain uncertain, although a public-comment period on the subject ended March 15, and clarity is tentatively set to manifest before year's-end. ♦ 

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