Time to Bid AHLTA Adieu?

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, backs the development and use of a single electronic health record system for the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, his spokesman told Nextgov.

"Gen. Cartwright believes a universal military health care record system that stays with the military member from accession to death would be more efficient and improve the overall quality of care," Marine Maj. Cliff Gilmore said. "He has been involved in several discussions about development of a universal electronic record system and is confident a reliable system can be developed."

In fact, Roger Baker, the chief information officer at VA, told a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing last Thursday that Defense and VA are within two months of reaching an agreement on development of a single electronic health record, and I'm told Cartwright played the key role in this pact.

Cartwright holds discussion sessions in the Pentagon on Saturdays on topics of interest to him, and last May, he held one on problems with Defense's troubled AHLTA electronic health record system, followed by another in late 2010 and another earlier this year.

Cartwright, I'm told, eventually came to the conclusion that AHLTA could not be fixed, and that it made sense to pursue development of a single record with the VA that could potentially save the two departments billions of dollars.

I'm told the permanent bureaucracy at the Military Health System HQ in the Skyline office complex in Falls Church, Va., still is fighting the inevitability of an idea whose time has finally come.

But, Baker, in a speech to the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in Orlando, Fla., on Monday said the two departments have already achieved "substantial agreement and commonality" on a single electronic health record.

And, he added, this agreement is backed by the secretaries of the two departments.

Maybe it is at long last time to say goodbye to AHLTA.

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