HHS' Indian Health Service launches national IT modernization project

The Indian Health Service, an HHS agency tasked with providing health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives, is researching how to modernize its health IT infrastructure.

The agency's health IT modernization research project was spurred by the Department of Veterans Affairs' 2017 decision to replace its homegrown EHR VistA with a new Cerner system. The IT system used by IHS — dubbed the Resource and Patient Management System — is a "distant cousin" of VistA, sharing similar legacy infrastructure.

"RPMS was developed in close partnership with the Veterans Health Administration and has been somewhat dependent on the development of the VA health IT system, known as VistA," Mitchell Thornbrugh, acting CIO of the Office of IT at IHS, wrote in an Oct. 24 agency blog post. "By adapting VistA, IHS reduced expenditures on developing and maintaining the system."

However, with the VA planning to launch the new Cerner EHR at its first set of test sites in early 2020, IHS determined it was time to "re-evaluate" the agency's health IT needs.

The research project is a collaboration between the Office of IT at the Indian Health Service and the chief technology officer at HHS. During the next year, health officials from the two offices will work together to develop a project planning roadmap, assess the current health IT capabilities at IHS and convene an expert advisory panel, including tribal members and leaders.

The one-year research project will be conducted under a contract awarded to consulting firm Emerging Sun and funded by HHS, with support from two subcontractors — contract management services firm Pistis and the Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute. These organizations will provide IHS with recommendations and facilitate the agency's transition away from the RPMS system.

The research project will end in September 2019.

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