The Department of Defense is getting help from industry in scoping out the minimum infrastructure specifications required to support deployment of an enterprise-wide electronic health record system. Among the technology areas that DOD is trying to get a handle on are hosting, network, device, and site characteristics information for its new EHR system.

Industry responses to a request for information from the DOD Healthcare Management System Modernization program office are due today. The U.S. military plans to buy a commercially available EHR system to replace its existing Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application system, which comprises multiple legacy medical information systems that the department developed from commercial software products that were customized for specific uses.

DOD's goal is to begin deployment of the new system by the end of fiscal 2016. Under the planned EHR system, medical records would seamlessly move between DOD organizations and with private healthcare practitioners, providing a comprehensive real-time health record for service members and their families and beneficiaries.

In January, DOD released an initial draft RFP to industry, with plans to release the final RFP for the system’s acquisition in July. Following the release of the RFP, the department plans to award a contract for the replacement EHR system in the third quarter of fiscal year 2015, with a goal of achieving initial operating capability for the program in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2016. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs intends to bid for DOD’s EHR procurement. In March, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki informed the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee that his work is to get the department “as competitive as anybody else” in the commercial space. VA is pitching DOD to adopt its VistA EHR, and presently is modernizing the system with deployment of enhanced clinical capabilities expected at two locations by September. 

Nevertheless, last May, DOD announced that it would competitively award a contract to acquire a limited set of core capabilities that might include VistA-based commercial solutions. But, DOD then determined that, because of the need to integrate future capabilities, it would cost more to acquire and add to a limited core set of capabilities than to acquire a full suite of capabilities.

Last year, VA and DOD put the kibosh on plans to jointly develop an integrated EHR system due to cost and schedule challenges, and instead decided to pursue separate efforts to modernize or replace their existing systems. By 2017, the two federal departments plan to share electronic health records. However, according to a February Government Accountability Office report, VA and DOD "have not substantiated their claims that the current approach will be less expensive and more timely than the single-system approach." Further, the 2017 schedule is considered outside the departments to be very ambitious considering their deployment histories.

An April 16 article in Military Times reports that Congress plans to hold back millions in dollars of technology funding from DOD and VA until lawmakers are convinced they are making progress in developing a way to share electronic health records.

The VA and DOD operate two of the country’s largest healthcare systems, providing care to approximately 6.3 million veterans and 9.6 million active duty service members and their beneficiaries at estimated annual costs of about $53 billion and $49 billion, respectively.

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