HHS CTO’s office to support Indian Health Service IT modernization study

The need for modernization at IHS is precipitated by the Department of Veteran's Affairs' plan to transition to a new EHR.
HHS CTO Ed Simcox at the 2017 Government Innovation Forum. (FedScoop)

The Office of the CTO at the Department of Health and Human Services will be supporting a new “research project” focused on modernizing health IT systems at the Indian Health Service (IHS).

The office announced Wednesday that it had awarded a contract to the Bethesda, Maryland, consulting firm Emerging Sun LLC, which will lead research into the current state of health IT at IHS. The project, which kicked off in early October, will take place “in multiple stages” over the coming year. HHS did not share the cost associated with the contract.

The need for modernization at IHS is, interestingly enough, precipitated by the Department of Veterans Affairs plan to transition from its current electronic health record system, VistA, to one more compatible with the EHR used by the Department of Defense.

“The IHS currently uses the Resource and Patient Management System, or RPMS, to manage clinical, financial, and administrative information in the Indian health system,” Mitchell Thornbrugh, acting CIO at IHS, wrote in a blog post. And RPMS is, he continued, “somewhat dependent” on VistA.


“Last year, the VA announced a decision to replace VistA with a new system. In response, IHS has accelerated efforts to re-evaluate our health IT needs and options.”

While this imperative makes plenty of sense, it’s not quite clear what the role of the HHS CTO is in this project. “The office of the CTO will leverage existing knowledge and awareness of agency priorities to inform the project,” a blog post states, nebulously. It hints, however, at the “resources” that the CTO is positioned to provide. “Sitting in the Immediate Office of the Secretary at HHS, the CTO’s autonomy and security ensures resources are available for project completion.”

The office of the CTO is also well positioned to bring modern design practices to the project, HHS CTO Ed Simcox suggested.

“The Office of the CTO is a champion for human centered design and user research to inform solutions at the Department,” Simcox said in a statement. “This research project will enable HHS to test and validate solutions that will best serve IHS stakeholders, ensuring that we are meeting the needs of the community that IHS serves.”

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