I spent the morning Wednesday catching up with Mike Leavitt, Utah's former governor, who now heads the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

He's made it surprisingly easy. Leavitt has become a blogger, posting his most recent entry from Tanzania. His journey has also included Mozambique, South Africa and Rwanda — his goal to see, firsthand, the American "government research, programs, staff and partners in action," with emphasis on malaria and HIV-AIDS.

As far as I know, he's the first Cabinet-level government official to try his hand at a blog, and it's fascinating to look through the responses that he's garnered so far.

Some of them read a little like homework assignments, telling him what he should write about and even what approach he should take or avoid. Others are commercials for the commenter's own programs or efforts in a particular area, such as in dealing with flu pandemic. They're the least interesting of the bunch.

A lot of them are just comments and observations from Americans who appear to be really hungry for a little direct interaction with one of their nation's leaders. There are questions about everything from why the antiviral medication Tamiflu is not more readily available to the public — one suggests it should be an over-the-counter drug — to why Medicare cards aren't encoded with basic information like names and birthdates that can be read electronically and quickly.

In his inaugural blog, Leavitt notes that he's not sure how often he'll write or how long he'll continue the blog, although he promises to stick with it for at least a couple of months. He's testing the waters. But he also promises that he will be writing the blog himself, not relying on staff members to do it for him. And he intends to read as many of the comments as he can find time for. The comments, by the way, are reviewed before they're posted to avoid anything inappropriate.

In an age when government officials and the people they are supposed to serve seem to have less and less in common and ever-more barriers between them, it's refreshing to see a senior government official make himself accessible, sharing his thoughts and interacting with others in a direct, readily available way. In the entries so far, he notes what he's learning as he travels and mentions things Health and Human Services is trying, such as a test run using the Postal Service to deliver medicine that might be needed in a pandemic.

It has potential to become much more than just refreshing.

The blog, from a high-level official who actually deals with health care, comes at a time of unprecedented discussion about health care. Lots of different people are looking at various aspects, from skyrocketing costs and near-record numbers of uninsured Americans to how to embrace technology that can make record-keeping more accurate, while also improving patient safety by looking for drug interactions or dosing errors.

Medicine and wellness are topics that transcend differences like race and religion and political affiliation, because we all have bodies and the challenges that come with them. Health concerns are also among the topics that can get each of us out of our own little worlds, because we all have friends and loved ones, and they all have bodies and challenges, too.

Any thoughtful and public, open-ended discussion can only be a good thing.

Wrote one blog reader, "Thank you for having this blog ... . the observations of your travels say much about your character."

They really do. You can see for yourself at secretarysblog.hhs.gov.


Deseret Morning News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by e-mail at lois@desnews.com.