WASHINGTON, D.C. — The award of the new modernization contract for electronic health records is a great opportunity to “save money, save time, and most importantly, save lives,” said Christopher A. Miller, the Defense Healthcare Management Systems program executive officer.
In a culmination of a more than two-year effort, the Defense Department today awarded a $4.3 billion contract to Leidos, Inc. on July 29. Now begins the hard part: putting the contract in place, Miller said.
The new contract will cover more than 9.5 million Defense Department beneficiaries and the more than 205,000 care providers that support them.
The contract will improve current interoperability among the DOD, Veterans Affairs and private sector health care providers, and enable each to access and update health records. The contract is based on protocols established by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and the DOD/VA interagency program office.
The DOD and the VA are interoperable now, said Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall, but this contract ensures it will continue by including future software upgrades.
Training is also included in the contract, he said.
“The trick … in getting a business system fielded isn’t about the product you’re buying, it’s about the training, the preparation of your people, it’s about minimizing the changes to the software that you’re buying,” Kendall said. “We’ve done a lot of work to ensure that our users … are prepared to take on this product and use it.”
The next step in fielding the system is to test the software to ensure it is secure and does what is needed. The contractor will begin fielding the system at eight locations in the Pacific Northwest, covering each of the services late next year. Ultimately, the system will be fielded at more than 1,000 locations worldwide. The cost over 18 years was placed at $11 billion, but new figures suggest the ultimate cost will be below $9 billion, Kendall said.
Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, called electronic health records “a critical enabler for supporting and maintaining medical readiness” around the world.
The new system is global and must operate in remote places like Afghanistan, in addition to DOD’s 55 hospitals and more than 600 clinics, Woodson said.
“Even apart from the wartime requirements, the patients we serve are frequently on the move, as are our caregivers, so it is very important to have a highly integrated system that is portable to serve the needs wherever they may be required,” Woodson said.
The department is sensitive to potential vendor lock situations. To mitigate this risk, the government negotiated specific rights to the software and technical data that will allow future contractors access to operate or sustain the system, Miller said.
“Today is not just about picking a software vendor,” Miller said. “Today is really about making sure we provide the right team that will provide the services and all those things that are necessary to meet our objectives.”
Building the new system will be complicated, Woodson noted, adding that implementing it does not simply mean turning off one system and turning on another.
The new system will replace up to 50 legacy systems and there is a transition plan for each one of those systems, Miller said.
“You can’t just take away the old (system) and drive in the new one,” Kendall said. “You have to provide health care continuously — you cannot stop. You have to keep the old system running until the new system is ready to step in and take over. It requires us to keep the old systems running.”