AHLTA takes hits in latest Web hall

In an open Web forum, defense health providers voiced frustration with the quality and features of DOD’s electronic medical record system.

Military health providers have numerous complaints about AHLTA, the Military Health System’s electronic medical record system.That was the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the latest Web hall sponsored by MHS and conducted June 20. Participants posted comments on a message board at the MHS Web site, to which MHS staffers responded.There were more than 150 comments, the overwhelming majority negative. Among the more general complaints: AHLTA is too slow, it transforms health care providers into typists and clerks, and its system for generating medical notes is inefficient.Physicians from different specialties — notably ophthalmology, dermatology and pediatrics — complained that the system lacks features useful to those specialties.There were several positive comments, such as the one Deborah Delk posted:“I want to take this opportunity to express how much I like this program. It has really made patient care so much safer because all documentation is legible and almost always available.”But Col. Brad Waddell's comment was typical of the complaints. “AHLTA was designed for administrators, not clinicians,” he wrote. “It is slow, inefficient, unreliable and in every respect an inferior product compared to other commercially available [EMRs].”“We strive to make AHLTA a world-class [EMR] and continue to upgrade and enhance the system,” staffers wrote in response.Another participant, Dr. Richard Lippin, questioned why the Defense Department does not adopt the Veterans Affairs Department’s Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture. ”In the best of all worlds, don’t AHLTA and VistA need to talk to each other anyway?” he asked.“VistA is tailored more for local or regional health care with a generally static population,” the staff responded. “DOD’s system was developed to support a global, transient population. DOD recognizes the strengths of VistA ,and we are diligently working toward adding those strengths into AHLTA.”To queries concerning the absence of specific system features, such as one that would allow pediatricians to plot growth charts, MHS responded that those features would be included in AHLTA 3.3, slated for release later this year.But one participant noted that AHLTA 3.3 has been implemented at his facility to less than rave reviews, although “they obviously listened to a lot of provider suggestions and tried to make changes to answer our concerns and problems,” he said. But AHLTA 3.3 “was not ready for a major facility like ours. The entire command ended up off-line with it for quite some time. The problems with 3.3 are so numerous that I don't even know where to start.”

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