The Department of Defense may be flirting with commercial EHR vendors, but they’re not ready to commit to an off-the-shelf product just yet. In a request for information released this week, the Defense Health Agency indicated that it is looking for support of its Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application (AHLTA) through 2018, meaning that no product viewed during October’s developer showcase is likely to be installed system-wide until that date.
Twenty-seven vendors were invited to demonstrate their EHR products in October, including most of the major players in the commercial space. McKesson, Siemens, Allscripts, Epic, GE, and Cerner all put their products through their paces, as did the Department of Veterans Affairs, delivering on a DOD promise to consider VistA during the selection. However, the extension of the maintenance contract for ALTHA shows that the DOD doesn’t believe that they will be able to get a commercial offering up and running for another four years, despite hopes to revamp the military system’s EHR by 2017.
The project will be handled in part by a leadership team imported from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), including Christopher Miller as program executive officer for the Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization (DHMSM) program. Heather Burke will act as chief engineer.
While last month’s demonstration solicitation asked to test products that had achieved at least Stage 1 meaningful use criteria and has been implemented in a HIMSS Analytics Stage 7 hospital, it remains unclear how current products will stack up to the needs of the department four years from now. With the EHR Incentive Programs planning to be deep into Stage 3 by 2017, the DOD needs to be careful not to agree to adopt a system that may be considered “legacy” by the time it’s ready for launch.
The sluggish and exorbitantly expensive process of modernizing the military’s healthcare technology has been a source of frustration for Congress and patients for years. Despite the VA’s progress on the massive backlog preventing veterans from receiving disability benefits, coordination between the two departments has been contentious at times. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel admitted in April that modernization efforts are “way behind” planned timelines, but his promise to “do better” remains to be realized.