The Department of Defense has announced that it will be delaying the deployment of its massive EHR project, citing issues identified in testing and an “aggressive schedule” as reasons for the decision. If the DoD and its vendors are right, the deployment delay will be a negligible few months, though one setback to an effort of this kind usually to leads to another.
On the plus side, military officials said, they’ve made significant progress with developing user-approved workflows, interfaces and technical integration of its legacy system to date. But they’re not ready to engage in the concurrent system configuration, cybersecurity risk management, contractor and government testing yet.
The deployment has been in the works for little over a year. Last summer, the DoD Healthcare System Modernization Program awarded the $4.3 billion contract to upgrade its existing Military Health System EHR to a group including Cerner and defense contracting firm Leidos. The Cerner/Leidos team won out against some tough competition, including a partnership including Allscripts, HP and Computer Sciences Corp. and an Epic/IBM bid.
The ten-year project is about as large and complex an integration effort as you’re likely to see even by Cerner standards. The effort will connect healthcare systems located at Army hospitals, on Naval vessels, in battlefield clinics across the globe. MHS GENESIS will bring all of this data — on active-duty members, reservists, and civilian contractors — into a single open, interoperable platform. The new platform should serve 9.5 million military beneficiaries in roughly 1,000 locations.
The project is upgrading the DoD from AHLTA (Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application), which has been in place since 2004. AHLTA has many flaws, though none that would surprise a health IT expert. (For example, when patients are referred to non DoD providers, the data is not captured and integrated into the system.)
Ultimately, it won’t matter very much whether the DoD manages to kick off its project on time. The larger question, here, is whether over the course of a 10-year integration effort, the project becomes, as Forbes columnist Loren Thompson puts it, “obsolete before it’s even built” and incapable of the data sharing that fueled its conception. Of course, any systems integration with a long timeline faces that risk, but not all industries are changing as quickly as healthcare.
The truth is, this is arguably an awkward time for any large entity to be making big interoperability plans. I’d argue that while there are more initiatives than ever aimed at the problem, they’ve effectively made things worse rather than better. After all, the unfortunate truth is that the more people compete over interoperability standards, the less possible data sharing becomes.