State is taking an ‘important step’ for planned EHR, as key lawmaker moves to speed it up

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, is offering legislation to speed up the State Department's progress in adopting an electronic medical records system.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, is offering legislation to speed up the State Department's progress in adopting an electronic medical records system. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

State’s Bureau of Medical Services has been working for more than a decade to replace its current paper-based medical record system with an electronic solution to better meet the healthcare needs of its diplomatic corps.

The State Department is finally taking steps toward adopting a long-delayed electronic health record system for its diplomatic corps, even as new Senate legislation would push the agency to more speedily transition away from its current paper-based system.

A State spokesperson told Nextgov/FCW that the department’s Bureau of Medical Services “is developing a fit-for-purpose provider portal as the first important step” in implementing an EHR system for all foreign service officers and their families, with the portal “currently on schedule to be operational this fall.”

State exclusively uses paper medical records for all of its foreign service personnel, which requires staffers and their families to hold onto physical copies of their healthcare information.

In a May 2023 request for information, State said the bureau was planning to replace the paper system with “a quickly deployable and multi-site-appropriate EHR system” that could serve the more than 75,000 eligible personnel and their beneficiaries who are stationed around the world. At the time, State’s Bureau of Medical Services said it had been working to develop an EHR system “for over a decade.”

Citing concerns about State’s delayed rollout of an electronic solution and the lack of streamlined medical care for foreign service personnel, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, introduced legislation on Feb. 27 that would require State to fully implement an EHR system “for all foreign service personnel that eliminates reliance on paper medical records and includes appropriate safeguards to protect personal privacy” by December 31, 2027. Risch is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The bill — known as the Electronic Medical Records for Foreign Service Personnel Act — also said an EHR system was “even more important for mental health records” and a necessary step as the department works to open new embassies across the South Pacific.

“Foreign service officers still have to carry physical copies of their medical records from post to post, hampering morale and threatening the safety of their information,” Risch told Nextgov/FCW in a statement. “It’s long past time the State Department complete its transition to an EHR system. My legislation provides the much-needed push to finish the job for the safety of the foreign service workforce.”