Last summer, the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization (FEHRM) program office was launched. MileMarker10’s Susan Sharer took the opportunity to catch up with Dr. Lauren Thompson, FEHRM’s Director for Interoperability.

FEHRM Update: Delivering Federal Capabilities

The Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization (FEHRM) program office, chartered in December 2019, works closely with the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and other partners to implement a single, common Federal electronic health record (EHR) that enhances patient care and provider effectiveness, wherever care is provided.

We recently named a Director, Bill Tinston, and Deputy Director, Ed Reyelts. Both are taking the reigns of their respective roles to drive continued movement of our overall mission, which is to become a Federal resource for health information technology capabilities and EHR modernization across Government agencies.

Besides DOD, VA and USCG, we see the Indian Health Service (IHS), State Department and Federal Bureau of Prisons as other entities that use EHRs, so there is that broader vision to becoming a resource across those and others.

COVID-19: Addressing Challenges

There were a number of challenges brought on by COVID-19 as we were delivering capabilities to enable EHR deployments. The FEHRM did an amazing job of weathering the storm and continuing to drive our mission.

We recently established an Enterprise Operations Center to monitor ongoing EHR deployments, which makes it easier to track and understand where things stand in the deployment process, the impact of deployment activities in facilities themselves and across the enterprise.

We also launched the joint health information exchange (HIE), which is a health data sharing capability that enhances the ability of DOD, VA, USCG and the private sector to quickly and securely share EHR data. It offers a wealth of information across the enterprise based on data captured through individual encounters. During the pandemic, we saw the telehealth community really explode. In response, we accelerated the adoption of tools, platforms and capabilities to enhance virtual health care. Fortunately, VA has a robust patient-facing video platform we could leverage to expand care and give providers extra capabilities.

To continue moving forward in the state we are in with the challenges the pandemic put forth is truly amazing. Most of that comes down to the amazing people within the organization who were all able to stay the course and do what they could to continue moving the mission forward.

What we learned through this time is that it is really the clinicians and those on the frontline who are the heroes in all of this. They did not miss a beat, not once, in their mission of care delivery.

Looking Ahead: Goals for Fiscal Year 2021

DOD recently deployed its next wave of the Federal EHR and VA went live with the Federal EHR in October. That also coincided with the expansion of the joint HIE to include the CommonWell Health Alliance, a nationwide network of more than 15,000 provider sites. So, there has been a lot in the past few months. All of this demonstrates the organizational capabilities of the FEHRM, our resilience to be able to not just maintain the status quo but continue moving forward.

We’re continuing in the process as well of building our FEHRM infrastructure and looking forward to additional requirements to meet that vision of being a Federal resource across the Government. To that end, we are working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to ensure our interoperability strategies are aligned and we can meaningfully use and exchange data between systems and partners. We are continuing to develop our capability around EHR and talking with IHS around modernization. There is a lot going on.

With all of these processes and technologies, we are also focusing on our people. We want to be sure as we move forward that our people are safe, secure and doing well. That speaks to the leadership of our organization as a whole, but also to the individual leaders who understand the importance of that focus.

How Industry Can Help

We continue to look to industry for partnerships, for relationships that can help us shape our path moving forward. We highly value the innovative ideas industry brings to the table and we rely on those steadfast partnerships such as those we have with the Leidos Partnership for Defense Health for DOD and that we see between VA and Cerner.

There are a lot of other relationships and partnerships being developed and that can be developed as we look toward new technologies and what they might hold for building out our capabilities.

When we are all focused on delivering high quality care seamlessly as patients move from one delivery system to another, innovation, integrating new capabilities through expanded partnerships and collaboration will be what moves us ahead.

We see across our organization and across industry a passion for the work we do. At the end of the day, this is all an integral part of a nationwide health care system. The key to true transformation is the exchange of information across all sectors of industry and Government that will require a close ecosystem involving Federal and standards organizations, and partners on the private side to help advance that interoperability.

About Dr. Lauren Thompson

Lauren Thompson, Ph.D., serves as Interoperability Director for the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization (FEHRM) program office. Dr. Thompson is responsible for interoperability strategy and planning, health interoperability standards and engagement with Federal and industry partners to ensure the highest levels of interoperability between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Defense (DOD) and the private sector.

Dr. Thompson served as Director of the DOD/VA Interagency Program Office (IPO) during the critical years before it was re-chartered as the FEHRM. Under her leadership, the DOD/VA IPO established itself as a leader in health data standards and interoperability, driving the development and adoption of national and international health data standards that enabled interoperability across the Departments and with private sector partners and having measurable impact on health industry interoperability.

Check out more articles from this year’s edition here.

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