After more than 7.5 million people signed up for private health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government now faces what could amount to a bigger challenge – modernizing and managing medical records for almost 10 million Americans.
The Defense Department is getting closer to awarding a multi-billion dollar contract to a commercial vendor to overhaul its medical records system, an endeavor that’s scheduled to take years to accomplish and will likely illuminate the shortcomings and capabilities of shifting from paper to electronic files.
One company will serve as the measure of success or failure since the Pentagon plans on awarding the contract to a single firm. If successful, the platform and software used could very easily determine the path forward for medical record-keeping outside the defense community since few other electronic health record companies handle the volume found at the Pentagon.
Some companies considered likely candidates for securing the contract are IBM and Hewlett-Packard, according to Bloomberg News.
The contract has an estimated life-cycle cost of $11 billion, according to congressional testimony this month from Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. Partial operability is expected by 2017, with completion by 2023.
One of the main goals of the project is to replace the myriad systems currently used by the Pentagon and integrate medical records so that providers inside and outside the Defense Department can access not just vital information such as allergies but physicians’ notes as well.
For that reason, the Pentagon earlier this year began soliciting feedback from potential contractors regarding whether its objectives are reasonable. “We don’t want to set a requirement that is technologically unachievable by industry or [that] we can’t afford,” Navy Capt. John H. Windom said in January.
The Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs each face a congressionally mandated deadline of Dec. 31, 2016, for implementation of modernized electronic health records systems. Last year the two agencies abandoned efforts to create a joint system that would make records accessible to both departments. The new Pentagon database is expected to achieve interoperability with the one the VA is developing.
The Defense Department’s track record on healthcare management in recent years underscores the need for an overhaul. A Government Accountability Office report published last month found that a major automated information system within the Defense Health Agency program exceeded its cost estimate by 2,233 percent, took six years longer than expected and failed to meet system performance targets.
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