Battlefield to bedside

Northrop, partners to build system for sharing health care records

Northrop Grumman Corp. has formed a
partnership with the Defense Department
and a Pennsylvania health
care provider to build a
prototype system to move
health records between
military and civilian medical

Members of the military
and their dependents could use such a system
throughout their lifetime if the experimental
electronic transfer system being developed in
rural Pennsylvania becomes a reality.

The system would reduce the need to repeat
tests and procedures when
patients move from one
health care provider or hospital to another,
making treatment almost seamless and often
speeding recovery. The system would also give
civilian facilities access to treatment records of
warfighters wounded on the battlefield even if
their injuries occurred years earlier.
The project is another example of how
health care has become a growing market for
government contractors.

The electronic health care business is projected
to grow 13.5 percent in the next four
years, topping $4.85 billion by 2015, according
to a 2007 study by Kalorama Information, a
Rockville, Md., publisher of medical market research. Such numbers have propelled government
contractors, including SRA International
Inc., Computer Sciences Corp., BearingPoint
Inc., Perot Systems and, most recently, Harris
Corp., to move aggressively into the health care
information technology market.

DOD, Northrop Grumman and Conemaugh
Health System, one of Pennsylvania's largest
health care providers, are building a software
research and development program called the
Military Interoperable Digital Hospital Testbed
(MIDHT). Working out of Johnstown, Pa., the
project will be an extension of electronic health
record sharing among the DOD Military
Health System, Veterans Affairs Department
hospitals and VA's Veterans Benefits
Administration, said Bruce Walker, director
of strategic planning at Northrop
Grumman IT's Civilian Agencies group.

On MIDHT, Northrop Grumman is
building on its experience managing
DOD's Armed Forces Health Longitudinal
Technology Application (AHLTA), which
consists of the medical and dental records of
9.5 million service members and their families
enrolled in the Military Health System.

The MIDHT pilot will extend AHLTA access
to private health care practitioners and create a
two-way health information exchange available
to any physician or facility ? civilian or military
? that treats a veteran or family member
throughout the patient's lifetime, Walker said.

"Think about the ability, for example, to
eliminate the duplication of testing like CT
scans and MRIs and multiple blood work just
to get a diagnosis for a particular individual
who may be a veteran who's been in a car accident
away from their residence," he said.

A doctor or hospital would have access to
the injured person's medical history, and the
primary care facility at home would receive a
report on the patient's treatment, Walker said.
The interface already exists for exchanging
battlefield injury reports with DOD facilities
such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center in
Washington. "We're taking something that
exists and expanding it to a larger population,"
Walker said.

"This is a multiyear initiative, and there will
be various aspects [developed] over this first
year," said Joe Dado, chief information officer
at Conemaugh. He said the provider's large
urban facility in Johnstown and its widespread
rural satellites make it ideal for testing
processes for sharing electronic records.

"We've been trying for years to ensure that
our military personnel have electronic health
records that can be shared and updated from
the battlefield and bases here at home," said
Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), whose district
includes the new Johnstown Technology Park
where MIDHT is located.

During Phase 1 of MIDHT, Northrop
Grumman and its partners are creating a development
laboratory to test electronic health
record systems and information exchanges.
"It's primarily been focused on infrastructure
and making sure that the policies at the
hospital level are consistent with what it's
going to take to make the interchange happen,"
Walker said.

The facility will also develop new collaboration
technology and software tools so health
care providers in offices and hospitals can
share information and coordinate efforts with
battlefield physicians and treatment facilities.
Phase 2, which is scheduled to begin this
summer, will use selected military records in a
live test situation, Walker said.

The prototype for exchanging health records
among DOD, VA and Conemaugh is expected
to go live this fall or early in 2009, he added.

"A lot of this depends on funding," he said,
adding that the project began with a $9 million
Army contract. "Our expectation is we'll
probably be in a $25 million to $30 million
range at the end of the pilot program."

Walker said he expects future funding to
come from local jurisdictions with major hospitals,
insurers and government entities that
will share the cost, especially when they see
the savings involved.

"Ultimately, this isn't just about the veterans
themselves. It's about dependents that
have survivor benefits, too," Walker said,
which creates a permanent nationwide need
for such a system.

David Hubler ( is an
associate editor at Washington Technology.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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