Health IT

After botched acquisition, Coast Guard joins Pentagon electronic health record system

Shutterstock ID: 133503068 By ESB Professional 

After sinking nearly $60 million into an electronic health record system procurement with nothing to show for it other than a few painful oversight reports, the Coast Guard now plans to adopt the same commercial EHR system as the Department of Defense.

Coast Guard and DOD officials announced plans April 9 to move to the MHS Genesis system, undergirded by Cerner software. Tech integrator Leidos is the prime contractor on the effort.

On a call with reporters, Stacy Cummings, program executive officer of the Defense Healthcare Management Systems, said the Coast Guard will be joining the DOD's existing 10-year, $4.3 billion contract, rather than issuing a separate solicitation.

"They will be joining our program office and contract," she said, adding how this affects the price tag remains to be seen.

Coast Guard Director of Acquisition Programs and PEO Rear Adm. Michael Johnston declined to offer a cost estimate, but he did note that "the Coast Guard is about 2 percent the size of the DOD from a service member perspective." About 6,000 Coast Guard members receive care in DOD hospitals or clinics.

"This is the best way forward, and everybody's looking forward to it," he said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs also plans to use Cerner as its electronic health care record software, but that acquisition is being held up amid turnover in the agency's executive ranks.

Cummings said she anticipates the Coast Guard will eventually integrate into DOD's deployment schedule, but that she was unsure the exact timeline.

As far as a timeline for rollout goes, Cummings said that because of the software that's already been developed and the lessons learned from DOD's initial rollout in the Pacific Northwest, "I don't anticipate it will take as long" as the DOD's two-year process.

"My anticipation is they'll integrate into our deployment schedule" after conducting appropriate testing and readiness procedures in order to help limit costs, she added.

Johnston said the Coast Guard could begin testing as soon as DOD begins deploying the "next wave or the wave after that."

At its initial operating capability sites, the DOD has had some latency issues, with users reporting some slowness. Cummings attributed those issues to DOD cybersecurity requirements slowing down the log-in process, adding that DOD has since "cut that down significantly."

"Coast Guard has already started looking at their infrastructure to make sure they're meeting the minimum needs" for infrastructure required by the commercial software, she said.

The Coast Guard makes the move after investing seven years into developing an electronic medical records management system -- blowing past the initial five-year, $14 million estimate and using 25 different vendors -- before it abandoned the plan altogether without any reusable equipment or software, forcing the service to revert back to its previous paper-based process.

At a January House Transportation Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee hearing, lawmakers -- including subcommittee Chair Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) -- pushed the Coast Guard to adopt the MHS Genesis system. Director of IT Management Issues at the Government Accountability Office Dave Powner also voiced support for adopting the solution chosen by DOD.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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