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Pentagon goes it alone on electronic health records

May. 22, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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DoD acquisition chief Frank Kendall said the Pentagon will create its own electronic health record system using commercial software. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Defense Department is abandoning its plans to build a single, joint electronic health record system with the Veterans Affairs Department in favor of developing its own system using commercial software.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s decision follows a 30-day review of the Integrated Electronic Health Record program, an initiative that was supposed to be a change of course from past projects that sought to modernize the departments’ separate systems. During a Pentagon press briefing Wednesday, Defense acquisition chief Frank Kendall said the department’s core system will be based on commercial software and common standards, which will ensure the new system can communicate with VA’s electronic health record system and those of other healthcare providers.

Kendall, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the department will meet with VA to discuss a new path forward and to consider the costs and risks associated with building a new system. VA decided to continue using its existing system, the Veterans Health Information System and Technology Architecture, or VISTA.

“In an ideal world, they [VA] would have preferred we go along with them, and we may end up” using VA’s system, said Kendall, adding that there is no requirement the departments use the same software to modernize their systems.

“It’s like an e-mail system,” Kendall said. “We don’t have to use the same e-mail systems to send e-mail to each other.”

Kendall highlighted the cultural differences between the two departments, and the need to ensure Defense clinicians feel comfortable with any new system. However, those cultural differences have contributed to a record of failed efforts to seamlessly share health data as troops move from active duty to veteran care.

In a letter to President Obama Wednesday, 20 Republican and Democratic lawmakers urged the president to end the back and forth between DoD and VA over how best to integrate their health record systems. “The time has come for a decision to be made and for the permanent merging of electronic healthcare records of the DoD and the VA,” according to the letter. “We can no longer waste the time or money that will result from endless bureaucratic inaction.”

The departments have spent an estimated $1 billion on the integrated health record initiative.

Kendall did not say how much it would cost to modernize Defense’s system but said he hopes the department can upgrade to the new system within its current budget. The new path forward comes as Defense faces $37 billion in sequester budget cuts this year.

Kendall said the Pentagon will lay out a more detailed plan over the next few weeks.

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