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DOD Seeks Value, Quality in Modernizing Health Records System

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

BETHESDA, Md., Nov. 14, 2013 – The Defense Department's senior official leading the competitive acquisition to modernize its health care management system has said he’s committed to ensuring the best value for taxpayer dollars while safeguarding quality of care.

Speaking yesterday at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association event, Christopher Miller, program executive officer for the DOD Healthcare Management System, talked specifically about the path of this modernization over the past two months in concert with the Veterans Affairs Department.

"I think there're a lot of people out there curious about what's been going on," Miller said. "I want to take this opportunity to share what I've been doing the last 60 days, as well as where I think the departments are going."

In addition to his duties as a program executive officer, Miller is the acting Interagency Program Office director as DOD and VA develop the IPO's way ahead. "It is important that I do represent and honor those two hats, because they both need each other to be successful," he said.

In his DOD capacity, Miller explained that he works for Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. He also relies on partnerships with Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, and with Defense Health Agency officials.

In his IPO capacity he works for both DOD and VA.

A key objective of the departments, he said, is seamless integration of VA, DOD, and private provider health data and the interoperability of the electronic health record systems that manage it.

"It's important that we don't forget the private provider health data. We do a lot of care through our commercial care partners, so we've really got to think about this in a multidimensional way," Miller said.

Interoperability is the most important factor, he added, in supporting the continuum of care "all the way from when you enter active duty that continues when you become a veteran."

"My focus," he said, "really comes down to modernizing our systems and figuring out how to really get our data from the point where we're just sharing data to where it's actually helping make better decisions. We're trying to make sure that our clinical community can make the best decision possible to improve health outcomes.

"We are not just one or two hospitals in a region," he added. "We are an integrated, global delivery network with more than 9.6 million beneficiaries in major medical centers, clinics, and even ships."

Modernizing the system's infrastructure is a priority, Miller said. "And we're trying to do that as smartly as we can," he added. "On the Department of Defense side, we want go through a competitive process. I do believe that's the right process. We will include and are open to many different kinds of opportunities and offerings."

He emphasized that VA is a central part of that process, "so that we really do make the best decision moving forward."

After initial delivery of the interoperability accelerators in December, he said, the next key piece for the IPO is national standards. The DOD and VA, he added, will be technical leaders and actively contribute to national standards for health data sharing.

"When you put us together in the area of standards, we have a lot to add to the national standards," Miller said. "And this is an area where I think we've got to [make] a stronger effort."

Miller said he believes a technical organization under the IPO is necessary to drive the standards to support what the organization wants for seamless sharing of health data. For example, he said, if he asked how many operating systems the audience members use, the answers would range from Microsoft, Apple, Linux and even Android.

"But at the end of the day, you can also send emails to each other, right?" Miller asked. "Well, the reason why you can do that is because we have a good standards underpinning that figures out the interoperability. We've got to get to the same point with our medical [information technology] data."

Miller said he recognizes it will take time to go through the competitive acquisition process to modernize DOD's legacy medical health record infrastructure. We need to do this right, he said.

Miller said he is very proactive in cost controls and he encourages his staff and industry to "think like a taxpayer."

"I'm looking for the best value," he said. "There [are] no preconceived ideas or notions. We are just trying to make sure we get the best value that meets our requirements that really sets us forward where we need to be for the future."

"There is a critical partnership between the DOD and the VA," he added. "We can't get there alone. We need to support and partner with each other."

(Follow Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)



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