The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses released findings today on military medical recordkeeping before, during and after the Gulf War. The analysis of medical recordkeeping practices was prompted by comments and concerns voiced by veterans groups over the handling of medical records.
With the release of this latest information paper on medical recordkeeping, analysts anticipate that veterans will have a better understanding of how recordkeeping problems may have occurred during the Gulf War. The paper also addresses post-Gulf War recordkeeping policies and practices, as well as future initiatives for improved medical records management, especially during deployments.
"The Gulf War taught us it's not enough to simply care for casualties," said Bernard Rostker, the Defense Department's special assistant for Gulf War illnesses. "We should more fully document health care, including hazardous exposures, to better address post-deployment health concerns among servicemembers and veterans."
Medical recordkeeping policies prior to the Gulf War generally focused on peacetime health services and did not appear to fully address the special requirements of maintaining a health record during deployments. The rapid deployment of a large and diverse military force (including the active duty and Reserve components) further contributed to medical recordkeeping problems during the Gulf War.
Since the Gulf War, medical recordkeeping has emphasized the documentation of deployment health-related activities and the development of automated information systems. Increasingly, the health of servicemembers is being addressed as an important element of military doctrine, plans, and directives.
In the years following the Gulf War, access to medical records has improved through closer cooperation between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and the National Archives and Records Administration. Last year, as part of an initiative to identify and facilitate veterans' access to Gulf War inpatient health records, staff from the special assistant's office located more than 25,000 inpatient records of servicemembers deployed to the Gulf.
The team identified the inpatient records located at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, the permanent storage site for all records of hospitalizations in military medical facilities. This information was entered into a database and has assisted veterans searching for inpatient medical records. Veterans looking for inpatient medical records are encouraged to call the office at (800) 497-6261 for a database search and assistance in obtaining copies of their records.
For the future, DoD is looking at technology for meeting many of its medical recordkeeping challenges. The computerized patient record and the personal information carrier - a dog-tag-sized device that holds a computer chip containing medical data - are two major cornerstones for the future. Currently, to meet the challenge of the medical record keeping for total force anthrax immunization, the Services implemented automated immunizations tracking systems to record and track the anthrax immunization status of all servicemembers. The Defense Department conducts routine audits of the immunization tracking systems, the DoD Central Database, and servicemembers medical records to ensure that anthrax immunization data is appropriately documented.
Two other information papers were released today. All three - "Medical Recordkeeping," "Inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid," and the "M256 Chemical Detection Kit" - are posted on DoD's website, GulfLINK (http://www.gulflink.osd.mil).