Defence updates 'giant GP practice'

The Defence Department is embarking on a wide-ranging initiative to update and integrate its medical information systems.

The Defence Department is embarking on a wide-ranging initiative to update and integrate its medical information systems.

The department provides medical services for all enlisted personnel.

Tenders for a scoping study into the department’s Defence Force medical information systems project drew 16 responses from “the usual suspects” in the consulting industry, says Defence Force CIO Ron Hooton.

“It’s a strategic consulting task. The vendor RFPs will come later, when we’ve done the study and the whole thing is priced out.”

The price is likely to be substantial, but so is the project, Hooton says. “Across the defence force, we run medical services for all enlisted personnel. They get all their medical care through the force, so it’s like a giant GP practice. What we’re looking to achieve is a system that captures the medical records of all personnel as if we were a general practice.”

Such an arrangement would cover not only New Zealand, but soldiers, sailors, airforce members and support personnel stationed overseas.

“We have a deployed medical capability and they would take the medical records of staff to where personnel are deployed; that is, Afghanistan or East Timor.”

In some instances, such as in Timor, the NZDF staff will provide medical help to the civilian population, he says.

“Providing medical records for 10,000 people isn’t that big a job, but when you look at how it would be deployed overseas or on a naval ship that’s not connected to the network, it becomes more complicated. Also, when you’re deploying information on an intranet, you’re getting into knowledge management,” he says.

“For example, a protocol for treating a gunshot wound to the knee would be useful to medical personnel.”

Telemedicine — “in a crude form” — is another application that may be part of the project. “If a medic in the field needs support, he could send back pictures to New Zealand,” he says.

The idea of overhauling the Defence Force’s medical IT systems came out of a review of the communications information systems, Hooton says.

“Our medical team is one of the most frequently deployed overseas and we wanted to consolidate their information systems, which are fragmented at present.”

Getting a preliminary study done to scope the project and its cost was necessary “because we want to be very certain about what we’re spending the money on, for what end value, before we leap. Also, some parts of the project aren’t immediately obvious, such as linking back into the national health system.

“Do we integrate with the national health index and get information from external sources, that is, clinics and secondary practitioners so that we have a comprehensive medical record, as well as from our own medical personnel?

“We want to product the best possible information support system for the people providing the medical service, so that our enlisted personnel can get the best possible treatment.”

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