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DoD May Keep Its EMR Until 2018

Posted on November 13, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Though it had previously announced plans to update its system by 2017, the Department of Defense is now looking for contractors who can support its current EMR, the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application (AHLTA), through 2018, according to iHealthBeat.

The DoD and VA have been working for years to integrate their separate systems,but seemingly have little to show for their efforts. The two sprawling agencies kicked off their effort to create an integrated record, the iEHR, back in 2009. The idea was to offer every service member to maintain a single EMR throughout their career and lifetime, iHealthBeat reports. But the effort has been something of a disaster.

The iEHR project was halted in February 2013, with officials deciding to work on making their current EMR systems more interoperable. A few months later, DoD Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote a memo stating that the agency will consider a commercial EMR system. Most recently, the DoD asked 27 EMR vendors to provide demos of possible EMR replacements, according to iHealthBeat.

In DoD’s pre-solicitation notice, DoD announced that it would extend the contract for AHLTA’s underlying Composite Healthcare System, which is the back end of the military EMR.  The Composite Health System handles laboratory tests, prescriptions and scheduling.

That being said, the DoD is also moving along with its iEHR plans once again, a gigantic project which the Interagency Program Office estimates will cost somewhere between $8 billion and $12 billion. A contractor named Systems Made Simple recently won the contract to provide systems integration and engineering support for creating  the iEHR.

Folks, if you can follow the twists and turns of this story — they’ve giving me whiplash — you’re a better person than I am. So far as I can tell, the DoD changes its mind about once a quarter as to what it really wants and needs. Seems to me that Congress ought to keep that birch rod handy that it used on HHS over the HealthCare.gov debacle. Isn’t somebody going to get this thing once and for all on track?

DoD Official Challenges Agency’s EMR Approach

Posted on April 26, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Back in 2009, the Department of Defense and the VA began an initiative, the iEHR project, which was supposed to integrate the two sprawling agencies’ EMR systems.  That initiative came to a halt in February, with the two organizations deciding make their two independent systems more interoperable and the data contained wtihin more shareable.

At least one DoD official, however, believes that the latest effort flies in the face of President Obama’s directive that agencies adopt and use open data standards. J. Michael Gilmore, director of the DoD’s operational test and evaluation office, has sent a memo to Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter arguing that the DoD’s plan to evaluate commercial EMR systems is “manifestly inconsistent” with that order.

“The White House has repeatedly recommended that the Department take an inexpensive and direct approach to implementing the President’s open standards,” Gilmore wrote. “Unfortunately, the Department’s preference is to purchase proprietary software for so-called “core” health management functions…To adhere to the President’s agenda, the iEHR program should be reorganized and the effort to define and purchase “core” functions in the near term be abandoned.”

If the DoD actually manages to successfully implement a commercial EMR system, it “would be the exception to the rule, given the Department’s consistently poor performance whenever it has attempted wholesale replacement of existing business processes with commercially derived enterprise software,” Gilmore noted tartly.

Gilmore recommends that the DoD go the open standards route by defining and testing the iEHR architecture, then purchasing a software “layer” to connect DoD’s EMR with other providers using open standards.

The VA, meanwhile, has formally proposed that the DoD migrate from its existing AHLTA EMR to the VA’s popular VistA EMR, already in place successfully throughout the agency’s hospitals and clinics. VistA is deployed at more than 1,500 sites of care, including 152 hospitals, 965 outpatient clinics, 133 community living centers and 293 Vet Centers.

VA Asks DoD To Adopt Vista

Posted on April 2, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

For decades, the Department of Defense has struggled to build an EMR, but 20 years and $10 billion later, still hasn’t pulled together a satisfactory system. The DoD’s system, AHLTA, has seen project failure after project failure and still isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do efficiently. Now — at long last — DoD is looking at different options.

In theory, the DoD is still hacking away at the iEHR, a joint system with the VA, which is due for testing in 2014. iEHR is slated to include a mix of commercial and open source technologies. But the evidence suggests that iEHR is another failed project.

A few weeks ago, the VA submitted a formal proposal to the DoD suggesting that the Military Health system migrate away from AHLTA,working in collaboration with open source VistA community members such as the Open Source Electronic Health Record Agent (OSEHRA), WorldVista and several other companies involved in VistA development, OpenHealthNews notes.

The prospect of seeing VistA put in place has its advocates excited, to say the least. Seeing an opportunity, the open source community has launched a petition on the White House web site urging the DoD to adopt VistA, reports OpenHealthNews.

So, is moving to VistA a good idea? For those, including myself, who aren’t up to date on just how extensive VistA’s presence is, note that it already embraces (stats courtesy of OpenHealthNews):

• Over 6 million patients, with 75 million outpatient visits and 680,000 inpatient admissions
• More than 1,500 sites of care, including 152 hospitals, 965 outpatient clinics, 133 community living centers, and 293 Vet Centers
• 244,000 employees including more than 20,000 physicians and 53,000 nurses
• Affiliations with more than 1,200 educational institutions with more than 100,000 health care students receiving clinical training from VA each year

VistA is one of the few EMRs out there that has been proven successful over time, garners universal respect and has an enthusiastic user base. Oh, and of course, the price is right even after you add in integration and development costs.  I personally signed the White House petition — will you be doing so?

Also, for another look at the integration failures of the DoD and VA check out Jon Stewart’s rant.

Having Already Failed Once, DoD Snubs Open Source For Second EMR Try

Posted on August 28, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

In theory, the VA now has everything it needs to standardize and upgrade the open source VistA EMR, especially after forming the Open Source Electronic Health Record Agent (OSEHRA) organization.  But when it comes to bringing that expertise to the DoD’s EMR projects, it seems OSEHRA alone can’t do the trick.  Sadly, it’s no surprise to find this out, as the DoD has an abysmal track record on this subject.

OSEHRA, an independent non-profit open source group, was launched about a year ago. The group is working away at improving compatibility between versions of VistA at the 152 VA medical centers.  According to an InformationWeek piece, there’s now about 120 different versions of VistA ticking away within the VA system.  OSEHRA hopes to create a common core — a “minimum baseline standard”  for 20 VistA modules — which will make it easier for the medical centers to deploy enterprise-wide apps.

The DoD, meanwhile, is hacking away at a joint system with the VA, called iEHR, which is due for initial testing in 2014.  A few months ago, DoD told Congress that while open source technology will be part of iEHR, the agency will also include commercial and custom applications, using a service-oriented architecture.

What that means, in practical terms, is that OSEHRA will be cooling its heels waiting for DoD contractor Harris Corp. to build an Enterprise Service Bus and open source APIs to allow for open source development on the project.

Now, that wouldn’t raise my suspicions so much if DoD hadn’t proven to be a collosal failure at developing an EMR.  Did anyone else here catch the major slap GAO delivered to DoD a couple of years ago, noting that its 13-year, $2 billion AHLTA application was a near-complete fizzle?  If anyone at DoD had humility, or if their bosses were held accountable for AHLTA’s staggering losses, nobody would let them drive the technical choices on this project.

Am I the only one who sees a recipe for billions more in DoD losses here?

EMRs and Paper Records: Natural Enemies

Posted on March 5, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

How useful is an EMR when large volumes of data don’t get entered into the system?   It seems we’ll have plenty of chances to find out.

As the following story illustrates, clinical staffers will often revert to using paper documentation at their first opportunity, even if a perfectly nice EMR is available for use.

Apparently, U.S. Army mental health personnel working in Afganistan and Iraq aren’t entering patient data into the DoD’s AHLTA EMR system. The Army is now swamped with paper behavioral health records and has no system in place to scan and code the records for use within AHLTA, according to iHealth Beat.

Admittedly, entering data on the battlefield may pose some unique problems. Still, I doubt the DoD is the only organization facing this problem. After all, if you’re a clinician who’s been using paper records for decades, and somebody suddenly tells you to stand your work habits on their head, resistance is only natural.

Now, I’m well aware that even if the DoD hasn’t purchased one, there are systems available which can transform paper records into data usable by an EMR.

However, I’m fairly such systems are designed primarily to import data from  existing paper archives.  I doubt they could transform an ongoing stream of paper records into data quickly — much less in real time.

The truth is, paper and EMRs are natural enemies. You either chart it or you enter it, but the two are based on substantially different work flows.  If your health organization’s staff slips back into using  paper documentation, it’s not just an inconvenience, it’s a huge problem.

After all, just imagine the potential for patient harm if half the critical data lives on the EMR platform and half in paper.  When they need live patient data, what do clinicians do with a message from IT that says: “We’re two weeks behind on scanning — figure it out for yourself”?

Defense Department’s EHR Effort Falters

Posted on October 7, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

From reader DKBerry:

You’d think that buying a common EHR platform and deploying it across all of Defense Department’s medical centers (Army, Navy, Air Force) … that they would have done better.  How did VA succeed where DoD is failing?

Unless the Defense Department addresses weaknesses in project planning and management that have hampered its current electronic health-record system’s capabilities, it risks undermining its new EHR initiatives, according to a Government Accountability Office report (PDF) requested by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee.

The report notes how the Defense Department has obligated some $2 billion since 1988 to an EHR system for the 9.6 million active-duty service members, their families and other beneficiaries but has come up short and has scaled back its original expectations for AHLTA. (AHLTA was originally an acronym for “Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application,” but the department later declared it was no longer an acronym, but a brand.)

After finding AHLTA’s early performance “problematic” in terms of speed, usability and availability, the Department of Defense has sought to acquire a new system known as EHR Way Ahead, according to the report.

The new system, according to the GAO report, “is expected to address performance problems; provide unaddressed capabilities such as comprehensive medical documentation; capture and share medical data electronically within DOD; and improve existing information sharing with the Department of Veterans Affairs,” and has initiated efforts to “stabilize” AHLTA so it can act as a bridge until the system is ready.

The Defense Department has allocated $302 million in its 2011 budget request, according to the report, but has not changed its EHR acquisition process to avoid the same shortcomings it experienced with AHLTA.

Source