recommended reading


Pentagon and VA ‘Still Years Away’ from Fully Interoperable Electronic Health Records

By Jack Moore // October 27, 2015

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo.,  blasted the “erratic history” of DOD-VA EHR integration, which stretches back to at least 1998.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., blasted the “erratic history” of DOD-VA EHR integration, which stretches back to at least 1998. // Chris Schneider/AP

The Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs are on course to blow past a congressionally mandated end-of-2016-deadline to fully deploy modernized electronic health record software that works across both agencies’ different health IT systems.

That’s according to a new assessment prepared for lawmakers from the Government Accountability Office.

“Establishing modernized and fully interoperable health record systems is still years away,” Valerie Melvin, GAO director of information technology issues, is expected to say in prepared testimony before two key congressional committees Tuesday.

Full deployment of an upgraded version of the in-house Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, known as VistA, isn’t expected to be completed until 2018, according to GAO’s new assessment.

Meanwhile, a massive project at the Pentagon to replace the patched-over Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application, known as AHLTA, with commercial software is still in the early stages. DOD awarded a $9 billion contract to defense IT firm Leidos and EHR vendor Cerner this summer.

Still, full operational capability for the Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization isn’t planned until the end of 2022.

That’s well past a 2017 deadline originally envisioned by the two agencies when they committed to a now-scrapped...

HHS Focuses on Flexibility in New Health IT Plan

By Hallie Golden // September 22, 2015

Alex Brandon/AP

The Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t know exactly what technology or even health care will look like in 2020, so fittingly the agency's new 5-year health IT strategic plan is centered on flexibility.

On Monday, the agency released its final Federal Health IT Strategic Plan for 2015-2020, which is meant to boost everything from health IT infrastructure to community health. The report lays out the federal government’s current vision for health IT and key future efforts important for the future.

Health IT is quickly transforming. Four years ago, when HHS released its previous plan, the Affordable Care Act was in its early stages and mobile health applications were still in their infancy.

“During the past decade's information age, innovation and technological advancements have been difficult to predict,” said Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for Health Information Technology, in a letter accompanying the report. “This plan aims to remain flexible to evolving definitions of health, health care and the technology developments that support them."

The plan is based on some 400 public comments and recommendations from the Health IT Policy Committee.

Here are some of the key federal initiatives the plan highlighted as beneficial for federal...

DOD Official to Industry: We Need Fitness Tracking Software, Not New Devices

By Mohana Ravindranath // July 31, 2015


For some military patients, wearable fitness trackers could be the key to a quicker recovery, according to Col. Deydre Teyhen, an official with from the Defense Health Headquarter's Office of the Surgeon General. 

Wearable trackers -- potentially similar to FitBits or Gear Fits --  could help patients with musculoskeletal conditions gauge how much physical activity they can handle without exacerbating their injuries, Teyhen told an audience at a conference hosted by tech association, AFCEA. 

For instance, some patients begin to feel better before their soft tissue heals fully, and start walking around more, which could inhibit their recovery process, she explained. An effective system might send that patient a notification on their fitness tracker to say, "'You've done great, at 1,000 to 2,000 steps a day,' and it gives you a warning ... 'You might actually be doing too much and you might cause a setback.'"

She added, "If you give them that warning in real time, then they can change their behaviors."

When deciding which tracking devices a military system should issue to soldiers, Teyhen said, "the question becomes, is it a one size fits all solution?"

"If we had device-agnostic software, that would allow us to then...

Researchers Building Microchips That Mimic Live Human Organs

By Anne Quito // Quartz // July 6, 2015

Robert Lucian Crusitu/

The Human Organs-on-a-Chip, designed to revolutionize clinical testing and research, bested 75 other finalists in the 2015 Design of the Year by the Design Museum in London. The contenders included the Google self-driving car, Norway’s new banknotes, and Rodarte’s covetable couture Star Wars gowns.

Human Organs-on-a-Chip acts like lab surrogates for actual human organs, like lab test animals. Invented by Donald Ingber and Dan Dongeun Huh at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, these special chips, about the size of a computer memory stick, recreate the biochemistry and the mechanical function of human organs in a piece of rubber.

Etched with hollow channels designed to be lined with actual living human cells (harvested stem cells), the translucent chips have specific patterns that correspond with the microarchitecture of a specific human organ. They are flexible so scientists can apply mechanical force to mimic the movement of organs. The lung-on-a-chip, liver-on-a-chip, and gut-on-the chip were reviewed by Design Museum’s award committee.

“Its selection as Design of the Year 2015 also signifies a desire to recognise and award design that can significantly impact society now and in the future,” said curator Gemma Curtin.

Cheaper, faster, more accurate...

VA Demos Prototype for New Patient Record System

By Mohana Ravindranath // June 12, 2015

The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Hospital
The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Hospital // Jim Mone/AP File Photo

The Department of Veterans Affairs is designing a new platform that can pull patient records from disparate hospital systems into one virtual place, potentially giving physicians a more complete look at a patient's history. 

The Enterprise Health Management Platform, or eHMP, is still in its early stages. Pilots in a few cities including Portland, Oregon and San Antonio, Texas, are scheduled to begin in July. But during a briefing with reporters Thursday, VA officials were eager to demonstrate progress on the prototype, though it's still buggy -- a pop-up information box lingers after the user moves the cursor away, for instance.

The current version of eHMP is read-only, meaning clinicians can use it to view patient records from VA, the Defense Department and community health partners through an electronic health information exchange. But it's an improvement on VA's current platform -- the Computerized Patient Record System -- because it lets clinicians search beyond files stored at their location, Neil Evans, ‎co-director of connected health at the Veterans Health Administration, said during the demonstration. Currently, a care provider must use a remote-viewing application to access records from other facilities.  

A more integrated system could help care providers see which drugs...