DoD Demonstrates Global Electronic Medical Records System
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
BETHESDA, Md., Nov. 21, 2005 The U.S. military demonstrated its new Internet-based electronic medical records system to reporters at a rollout ceremony here today.
Army Staff Sgt. Kevin M. Walker, a combat medic assigned to the 1st Stryker Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash., demonstrates a portable medical data collector that's used by American forces in Iraq. Walker participated in the Nov. 21 rollout ceremony for the military's electronic medical records system held at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"This is not just an electronic health record that's built around one hospital, or even a local community of hospitals. It moves information globally," said Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, who attended the event held at the National Naval Medical Center here.
The system is called AHLTA, and it operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Winkenwerder said, noting all medical data is secured and accessed only by authorized personnel. AHLTA - not an acronym, he said - is the system's name.
The $1.2 billion system uses off-the-shelf technology and began phase-in across the force in January 2004, officials said. Today, it's been deployed to about 60 percent of the military; full fielding is estimated to occur around January 2007, officials said.
The system will potentially serve more than 9 million U.S. servicemembers, retirees and their families across the globe, Winkenwerder said. Future plans include sharing military medical information contained on AHLTA with the Veterans Affairs Department, Winkenwerder said.
AHLTA was tested and proven in wartime conditions, said Army Staff Sgt. Kevin M. Walker, a 32-year-old combat medic assigned to the 1st Stryker Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, at Fort Lewis, Wash. Walker used AHLTA's portable electronic medical-record-gathering device when he was in Iraq.
"I think it's a great system," said Walker, who was in Iraq from October 2004 to September 2005. "Anything that can expedite the process of giving (servicemembers) care and helping their care go on further without the paper trail is just a really exciting experience."
Walker demonstrated a field electronic medical data-collection device at the Bethesda ceremony. Servicemembers' medical data contained on a dog-tag-sized electronic information chip, Walker said, is inserted into the medic-carried, palm-sized device for processing, Walker said.
Walker said the device is user-friendly and makes it easy to update a servicemember's medical information, compared to using old-tech paper forms.
"He puts the dog tags back on, and off he goes," Walker said, noting the information is then forwarded to a main database for the doctor's review.
Widespread use of interactive electronic medical records systems like AHLTA will ultimately produce lower costs, fewer medical mistakes and better care, said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, who attended the event with Winkenwerder.
Medical researchers can use data gathered by AHLTA and similar systems to head off outbreaks of disease, said Navy Vice Adm. Donald C. Arthur, surgeon general of the Navy, also at the ceremony.
"We're talking about the ability to aggregate those records, to put them together so that we can locate disease patterns," Arthur said.