Will massive DoD contract solve the EHR interoperability problems?

The Department of Defense Healthcare Management Systems Modernization contract--estimated to be worth approximately $11 billion over its lifecycle--could be a game-changer for healthcare in the United States due to its sheer size and scope, reports Nextgov.

Due to be awarded by the end of this year, the contract involves integration of a commercial electronic health records system to cover its nearly 10 million beneficiaries and an array of health care facilities worldwide.

The Pentagon is looking for a single contractor to pull it all together, and the big-name contractors already have aligned with commercial EHR vendors in preparation for the contract, according to Nextgov.

Getting the contractor on board by the end of the year would allow more time to work on the particularly vexing problem of interoperability--which prompted the DoD and Veterans Affairs to throw up their hands in frustration in February 2013 at efforts to build a joint system from scratch. Defense has since focused on off-the-shelf commercial technology.

The VA, however, has said it wants to be in the running for the DoD-EHR contract.

IBM, meanwhile, is beefing up its federal healthcare division without explicitly stating it's going after the DoD contract. In addition to naming a new chief medical information officer to its federal healthcare practice, it's bringing the Watson supercomputer technology to the table. In healthcare, Watson technology has focused on clinical decision support, though IBM does offer EHR software.

"Watson is not going to implement an electronic medical-records solution, but it can be used to make clinicians better or more efficient," Andrew Maner, IBM's managing partner for its U.S. federal division, told Bloomberg.

"Watson's really good at that type of integration," Steve Gold, vice president of the Watson Group, told EHR Intelligence.  "It can go against volumes of information. Helping doctors navigate the massive amount of information is so critical to improving the quality of care that they can then deliver. You want the system to get smarter, and Watson can do that."

Congress is still putting heat on over the failed joint DoD-VA effort and has made funding going forward contingent on continued collaboration on interoperability.

The sheer size of the DoD project is raising some eyebrows--especially since a report on Defense Health Agency projects that have gone off track included an EHR system for combat troops costing 2,233 percent more than originally estimated.

To learn more:
- read the Nextgov article
- check out the Bloomberg story
- find the EHR Intelligence piece

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