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Department Shares Medical Record-Keeping Expertise With Tampa Hospitals

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2007 – The Defense Department will soon partner with private-sector hospitals in the Tampa, Fla., area to share electronic medical record-keeping expertise and technology.

The pilot program is part of President Bush’s initiative for the U.S. medical community to adopt computerized records within a decade, Stephen L. Jones, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said during a joint Pentagon Channel-American Forces Press Service interview April 13.

The partnership will also enable DoD to gain expertise using electronic medical records for its inpatient customers, Jones added, noting that the program should be up and running within a year.

The Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application system houses the clinical data for DoD’s medical outpatients and can be accessed at 136 military treatment facilities, Jones said.

“The next big step is to develop an (electronic) inpatient record,” Jones said. DoD is working with the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said, to establish an inpatient electronic medical record system that can be accessed by both organizations.

DoD’s expertise with the AHLTA system will be shared with the Florida hospitals, Jones explained. These hospitals, in turn, will share their experiences using electronic record-keeping for inpatients.

Passwords, encryption and other computer-security tools will be employed to safeguard the personal medical information, Jones said.

The Defense Department already partners with the private-sector medical community, Jones pointed out, as many DoD beneficiaries obtain their medical care from commercial-sourced providers as part of the TRICARE program, the military’s health maintenance organization system.

The Tampa area is considered ideal for the pilot program, Jones said, since there are about 700,000 beneficiaries who live full- or part-time in the area and access their care through military-run medical treatment facilities or TRICARE-contracted civilian clinics.

Speed and accuracy are two immediate advantages inherent in using electronic medical records over the old paper-based system, Jones said. Computerization enables medical records to be quickly transmitted anywhere in the world, he noted, and the indecipherable scrawls used by some doctors and pharmacists become moot.

Although servicemembers, their families and other beneficiaries will benefit through expanded use of electronic medical records, Jones pointed out that such a system is just one of many components required to provide quality, up-to-date medical care.

“I think electronic records are the way of the future,” Jones said. “But, we still have to have well-qualified, well-trained professionals providing care.”

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Stephen L. Jones

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