Pentagon's Electronic Health Record Gets a Life Extension

Bob Brewin | NextGov | October 31, 2013

The Defense Health Agency plans to extend the life of the department’s electronic health record -- the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application, or AHLTA -- through 2018, a sign that it will take until then to field a new and improved EHR.

DHA said in a request for information yesterday that it also plan to extend the contract for the underlying Composite Healthcare System (CHCS).

AHLTA is the front end of the military EHR, used by clinicians to document and view patient data, while CHSC serves as the back end, with modules that handle lab tests, prescriptions and scheduling.

SAIC won the original $1 billion contract in 1988, followed by a two-and-a half year, $158 million extension in 2009. SAIC stands a good chance of winning the new extension contract, for a total of 26 years as the CHCS contractor.

The timeline for the new AHLTA/CHCS extension indicates that the Defense Department has fallen behind plans to deploy pieces of a modernized electronic health record by next year, with fuill deployment by 2017.

That was the timeline for the integrated EHR the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department planned to jointly develop, until Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel decided in May to abandon the iEHR and instead develop a military system based on commercial products.

I’m picking up medium strength signals that the Pentagon initially pegged the cost of its new EHR at $4 billion, a cost now viewed as unrealistically low, so why not just keep AHLTA humning along?

Open Health News' Take: 

It seems to make so much sense for CHCS/AHLTA to embrace the VistA system that it forked from many years ago. It would allow the system to be enhanced with much less disruption that a 'rip & replace' effort. It also allows for more seamless transition of active duty military personnel and their medical records to the VA and and other federal and state agencies that are also running VistA. There is also a fairly robust community of companies that continue to emerge to support VistA installations, which might be a better alternative than getting locked into one commercial vendor like Epic or Cerner.  See "VistA rivals Epic and Cerner in major deployments of EHR systems".  -  Peter Groen, Senior Editor, OHNews