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Winkenwerder: Military Health Records System Is "Solid"

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2003 – DoD's top health official today vouched for the integrity of the military's health records system, adding that a special task force will examine ways to make that system even more secure.

Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, characterized the Dec. 14 theft of computer hard drives from a TRICARE health services contractor in Phoenix, Ariz., as a "very serious" matter.

"It's got our full attention," he emphasized.

He pointed out that the system used by TriWest, the contractor, isn't part of the Composite Health Care System II, DoD's pilot computerized medical records system.

"There is no relationship between those two (systems)," Winkenwerder declared. One reason for this, he noted, is that CHCS II is just now undergoing development, being slated for pilot testing at seven stateside sites. Additionally, CHCS II information is stored at "very secure sites," he said. And, he noted, DoD has already implemented a number of steps to enhance CHCS II information security.

Unlike old-tech, paper records, DoD's new computerized health care records system will allow rapid movement of medical records from one clinic to another, he noted.

People won't have to take their medical records with them under CHCS II, Winkenwerder said. Physicians and other health care providers, he added, will have ready access to patient information for clinical decisions. And, he said, CHCS II's database will help officials to evaluate better the quality of health care DoD-wide.

He emphasized that information security for today's military health care programs -- including anti-hacker and physical security measures - - "is solid" and consistent with DoD and federal guidelines.

To make that security even more robust, Winkenwerder said DoD would conduct a worldwide health care information security assessment at every military treatment facility and contractor location. It will also establish a health information security task force of DoD and military service medical leaders and information system experts, he added.

He said DoD is also implementing new health information systems in coming months that are compliant with or exceed Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act legal requirements for the protection of patient information.

"I'm quite confident that we'll have -- in the days and weeks ahead -- an exceptional security program (for military health care information)," he concluded.

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