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Military services undergo massive health IT consolidation

Jan. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  

Until recently, each of the military services had their own health information technology organizations, complete with separate data centers, contracting practices, infrastructure and applications.

“We had a lot of duplication and redundancy across the services and across Tricare,” Dave Bowen, chief information officer for the Defense Health Agency, said in an interview. “We found in many areas where there was a need for a specific health-related function supported by an IT system, the Army, Navy and Air Force all had their own systems.”

The formal establishment of DHA is changing that. The agency opened for business Oct. 1 to provide common health services that support operational forces. The agency stood up initial capabilities for shared services in key areas, including health IT, medical logistics, pharmacy operations, facilities planning and Tricare contracts.

DHA’s shared services are projected to generate $2.4 billion in savings over the next five years, DHA director Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglas Robb said in a separate interview.

Bowen’s organization inherited 750 military and civilian positions and about 1,000 contractors from the military services. DHA has identified a total of 8,000 personnel who will transition to DHA as the IT shop works toward full operating capabilities in October 2015.

“We took a much broader and much more aggressive position then some of the other shared services,” Bowen said. “Our eventual vision is we will own all the IT resources all the way down to and including the desktop in the individual facilities. We would bring in all those folks from an organizational standpoint and all of their spending from a funding standpoint by Oct. 2015,” Bowen said of health IT personnel and equipment.

Lt. Gen. Robb stressed there is zero growth within DHA, meaning the organization was staffed with existing personnel from the military services.

DHA initially projected its health IT shared service would save about $6.3 million over the next year, but that number shot up to $23 million after identifying contracts that could be consolidated and other potential savings, Bowen said.

When asked how the new agency will interface with shared service providers like the Defense Information Systems Agency, Bowen said there are plans to begin migrating to DoD enterprise email as soon as March.

Email is likely to be one of the first services that will be consolidated, and Bowen estimates it will take about nine months to migrate 75,000 email accounts to DISA enterprise email. DHA is working on an agreement to decide what additional services the agency might receive from DISA.

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