DOD health record procurement to 'lead the way' on interoperability

The new system is intended to cover roughly 9.6 million people and will have a major impact on the market for interoperable electronic health records systems.

Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Douglas J. Robb

Defense Health Agency Director Lt. Gen. Douglas Robb noted that about one-third of the $50 billion the military spends every year on health care pays for private sector care.

A lot has changed in the military health care landscape over the past year. A new cross-cutting organization, the Defense Health Agency, was launched as a military shared service. Since being announced in September 2013, DHA has opened nine of its 10 shared service areas, including health IT. The tenth -- public health – is set to go live later this month.

Among the biggest tasks facing DHA is launching and managing a new, modernized electronic health record system that is the subject of a major, high-profile DoD procurement.

The health record procurement, the Healthcare Management System Modernization (the acronym DHMSM is pronounced "dim sum"), is being managed outside of the IT realm by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. The acquisition is being treated "with the same care and approach as in a weapons system," Christopher Miller, the program executive officer, said at an industry event hosted by AFCEA's Northern Virginia chapter on Sept. 9. "This is not just another IT program. This is about really thinking through and changing how we deliver health care in the military health system," Miller said.

The final request for proposals was released late last month, and several teams that combine leading health record providers and IT integrators with federal experience are expected to submit bids next month. While the system is intended to cover the roughly 9.6 million active duty military, retirees, and their families, the final iteration will have a big impact on the market for interoperable electronic health records systems being deployed commercially, according to DHA director Lt. Gen. Douglas Robb, who also spoke at the AFCEA NOVA event.

"We're going to lead the way" in interoperability, Robb said. The final system will have data elements that can move back and forth seamlessly within the Department of Defense, "hopefully" with the Department of Veterans Affairs VistA system, and "for sure with the civilian health care system," Robb said. This is essential for DoD, because of the $50 billion the military spends annually on health care, about $16 billion goes to private sector care, Robb noted in a presentation.

Usability is a big issue for the new system, Miller said. "Yeah, we're asking for an off the shelf system, but we're also asking for things like training and support that will make certain we get through the deployment and we actually get people able to use the system," Miller said. Right now, usability is an area where commercial health IT providers lag behind the tech world in general. "This is an area where health IT is not where we want it to be. There is not an Apple or a Google in the health IT business," Miller said.

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