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Military Deploys Digitized Patient Record

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24, 2002 – A computerized system will eventually provide military physicians with fast, around- the-clock access to patient records anywhere in the world, a DoD health care official noted.

The Composite Health Care System II, a digitized, networked patient record system, has been green-lighted for deployment to serve the military health care system's 8.7 million beneficiaries, Navy Dr. (Cmdr.) Robert Wah said. The recently approved system, he remarked, is slated to debut at up to seven military hospitals within the next year.

"We will gather lessons learned and then we plan to go worldwide over the next three-year period," he explained. Global implementation of CHCS II could take up to five years, Wah noted.

Availability of CHCS II will provide a "data gold mine" for military physicians and other health care professionals, he said. "We can use powerful computers to go in and 'mine' information to help us take better care of our patients," he explained.

Additionally, the database can provide "symptom surveillance," he said. That means it could reveal where "a set of symptoms may be coming through our system (and could) alert us earlier to a possible epidemic or even a biological or chemical attack," he continued.

That's something a single person can't discern using low- tech paper records and patient health charts, he said. Paper charts are a storehouse for information on a single patient, Wah explained, but to provide an overall picture of the health of hundreds, thousands or in the DoD case, millions of patients, we need more than rooms full of patients paper charts.

"We can have the computer constantly watching that 'data gold mine,' to see when things may be cropping up," he noted.

Wah said other CHCS II benefits include enhanced patient safety -- physicians' reports and notes are 100 percent legible and there are no transcription errors.

Using computers in the medical field has proven to be a more accurate, efficient way of doing business, Wah remarked. In the military, for example, the old, sometimes difficult to read, pharmacy prescription slip is a thing of the past, he asserted.

"Military physicians order all medications on computers today," he said. "We've been able to do that for 10 years now." He pointed out that most doctors in the civilian world still fill out paper prescription slips.

Computerized databases also provide more accurate record keeping for service members being immunized with the smallpox vaccine, Wah said, noting that such methods can quickly identify who was immunized by a particular vaccine batch or lot.

"If there ever is a problem, we can determine who got a shot from a particular vial, much more quickly than a paper (record keeping) system," he pointed out.

With a paper system, flipping through the pages of medical records to find out just one patient's vaccine information would be very time-consuming, Wah explained.

"Now, because it's all on a computer storehouse, we can have the computer do all of that searching for us," he concluded.

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