Military News

Pacific Northwest to be first to get new medical record system for military members, families

Major changes in medical record-keeping are coming for members of the military, and the Pacific Northwest region will be the proving ground.

In addition, a vendor team has asked Tacoma’s MultiCare Health Systems to help it win an $11 billion federal contract to provide modern electronic medical record-keeping for the Department of Defense.

The Pacific Northwest was chosen as the pilot installation site because it has a history of partnerships and communication between the military medical system and private care providers.

Each year, for example, MultiCare has more than 8,000 instances of sharing records with Madigan Army Medical Center and the Veterans Administration, MultiCare vice president Florence Chang said Wednesday at a briefing about the health system’s role in the federal bidding.

Once the Defense Department implements its new record system nationwide, service members should start to notice a big difference. Any doctor they visit, no matter where they’re stationed, should be able to review their medical record. No more carrying copies of files and faxing documents. The burden of reciting a medical history for every new doctor should be lifted.

For military families, a modern record-keeping system should make it easier to seek specialized care outside the military system.

“Madigan is set up for adults, and more specifically for service members and the issues they face,” said Dr. Jim Polo, medical director for Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and a military veteran. “But lots of kids might need specialty care that Madigan doesn’t have.”

Congress has set a deadline of December 2016 for the Department of Defense to begin to implement a new electronic medical records system. But first, the feds have to choose a vendor.

IBM and Epic, whose record system is the nation’s most widely used, have teamed up to bid for the lucrative contract. It’s competing with three other teams of health care technology companies and government contractors. MultiCare first implemented electronic medical records using Epic’s platform in 1998, making it an early adopter of the technology.

MultiCare was the first Epic client to develop two-way communication with non-Epic systems, like those within the military and Veterans Administration, Chang said.

It’s MultiCare’s history with Epic as well as its long experience with electronic records and information sharing that led to a place on the IBM-Epic advisory group. If the feds choose the IBM-Epic team, the group will support the team through the installation. Other advisory group members include representatives from some of Epic’s largest clients, as well as William Lyles, a veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces. Lyles, a former Green Beret officer who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan, will represent patients’ interests.

All branches of the military in the Pacific Northwest will be the first to use the new system, and it will be tested here before being installed nationwide.

Madigan treats about 100,000 patients a year in the South Sound. The Defense Department is consolidating all military health care in the Puget Sound under Madigan, giving the Army hospital influence over hospitals at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Naval Base Kitsap.