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Some Sobering Concerns for DOD's Electronic Patient Records Plan

As a recent commentary from a national news outlet notes, it shouldn’t be remotely surprising that, when it comes to the implementation of electronic health records systems (EHRs) across the country, the military should have singular and outsized problems.

After all, the military is a singular establishment with special concerns and considerations that simply don’t exist in the civilian world.

Like long-term deployments, for example, which routinely affect servicemembers from Missouri and elsewhere across the country.

And like the specialized medical needs of many military members, which as noted in the above-cited Forbes article, arise from “the nature of the profession, which routinely asks warfighters to place their lives at risk.”

The American government, along with many high-level principals in the medical industry, began pushing EHR systems several years ago as logical alternatives to handwritten patient charts and records.

The rationale: to improve efficiency, decrease medical error, cut costs and allow for a more seamless and rapid sharing of information among medical providers.

Have those aims been realized?

As based on numerous studies, as well as responses from care providers and administrators across the country, the jury is still decidedly out on EHR systems.

That is, there are gains … and there are losses. As for the latter, many doctors express acute frustrations in working with the online systems. Information sharing can be difficult. In fact, information is sometimes lost or wrongly inserted. Medication errors have occurred. Misdiagnoses have resulted. Direct patient contact has suffered. And reports of vendor-related problems have been legion.

The Pentagon is seeking to update the electronic health record system for the DOD, which is truly a big deal, given the huge user population and the billions of dollars pegged for the initiative.

A Forbes medical writer is highly skeptical regarding the prospects for success, given that the DOD program office for the effort states it will be looking for an “off-the-shelf” product. As he notes, the deficiencies manifestly revealed in such system offerings have resulted in the very need to seek improvements through modifications.

In other words, replacing a problem with, well, a problem seems counterintuitive and unproductive.

More study needs to be undertaken prior to large-scale system alterations, states Forbes.

When the DOD shows enthusiasm for already existing technology that has shown to be problematic, Forbes notes, “policymakers should be worried.”

With $11 billion on the line, they should perhaps be terrified.