DOD’s EHR project headed in the right direction, official says

The PEO of the Healthcare Management System says standardization is critical to a workable interoperable system.

No one denies that the Defense Department’s path toward an interoperable electronic health records system has been filled with potholes, least of all Christopher Miller, program executive officer of DOD’s Healthcare Management System (DHMS). “It has been a rotten road,” he told an audience Thursday.

But in the 18 months since DOD and the Veterans Affairs Department decided to develop separate systems rather than a single joint EHR system, a lot of progress has been made, Miller said at AFCEA NOVA’s Joint Warfighter IT Day in Vienna, Va.

DOD released its Request for Proposals for the modernization in late August and is planning to deploy EHR systems to initial sites in two years, he said. And, although the joint DOD/VA project proved to be unworkable, the two agencies are, in fact, sharing information—including access to 6.5 million records, with 60,000 data requests handled and 1.5 million data elements exchanged each day.

As DHMS modernization moves forward, a key will be adopting common standards to ensure interoperability, Miller said. The system, after all, needs to work at a thousand locations and not only be able to work with current systems but be able to handle what comes down the road.

The rapid pace of IT change dictates the need for the type of system DHMS officials are aiming for—something DOD obviously hasn’t had. “The reality is, our systems have not kept up,” he said. But electronic records are increasingly common and DOD and VA need to keep pace. Most people have some kind of electronic health record now—whether they know it or not—Miller said, and that’s only going to become more prevalent as health information exchanges are set up and companies such as Apple and Google add EHR and healthcare software to their platforms. “They day is coming when you’re going to carry a lot of your health information on your smartphone,” he said.

The goal is to develop an interoperable system that can handle that kind of mobile access along with other interfaces, and allows the medical and dental records of about 9.8 million personnel and dependents to follow them throughout their military service and civilian lives. Miller said he doesn’t expect the road forward to be completely smooth—large IT projects never are—but DHMS is headed in the right direction.

Proposals for the DHMS project, which could be worth up to $11 billion, are due Oct. 9.