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Health record improvements will bring big rewards, advocates say

Jun. 26, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By CHRISTY O’FARRELL   |   Comments

Streamlining military clinicians' access to electronic health records won't be an easy job for companies vying to win the multibillion-dollar, 10-year Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization (DHMSM) contract. But the benefits are huge, senior armed forces' leaders told an audience of industry representatives.

"We're not your usual EHR customer," said Karen Guice, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for health affairs, referring to the often austere environments around the globe in which medics, corpsmen and others care for sick and injured service members. "We need it to work where we do," said Guice, speaking at a June 25 Industry Day for the contract. Officials expect to issue the final request for proposals within three months.

MAIN STORY: Health systems modernization RFP draws closer

"Bandwidth is an issue at sea," said Rear Adm. Kenneth Iverson, deputy chief of Navy medical operations. "Submarines are even more of a challenge."

In addition, military doctors must be able to access and share with the Veterans Affairs Department information from countless private-sector providers who also care for the patient population through TRICARE. "It's critical for us to have that interface with private providers," Guice said.

The government should know basics such as patients' immunization records and blood types without service members and veterans having to physically carry that information around with them, Iverson and other panelists said. "We need the electrons to follow the bodies," agreed Cmdr. David Hardy, clinical support services director at Naval Hospital Bremerton, Wash.

As recently as a year ago, Army Col. Jennifer Caci, 62nd medical brigade commander, saw personnel attaching paper records to patients as they were being transported. Having timely information about patients can make the difference between life or death, she said.

Maj. Gen. Brian Lein, deputy surgeon general and deputy commanding general of the Army Medical Command, described how far the military has come since the days of "Sharpie on the forehead" of patients in the early 1990s. Yet it still has a long way to go to improve the digitized, but not integrated, records of today. Clinicians should not have to log into 15 different patient portals with 15 different passwords, Lein said.

Craig Schaefer, program manager for the Defense Medical Information Exchange, told the crowd of more than 400 contractors that his organization is working to improve its capacity, which he described as "Flintstones"-era in some cases.

"You guys will replace much of the capacity that I bring, but it's going to take you a while to get there," Schaefer said.

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