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IHS Health Information Technology Summit Addresses Modernization Initiative’s Funding, Staffing, and Rollout

On December 13, 2023, the Indian Health Service (IHS) hosted the Health Information Technology (HIT) Modernization Summit to provide updates and discuss HIT issues with Tribes. The HIT Modernization Summit followed up on the November 8, 2023 IHS press release, which announced the selection of General Dynamics Information Technology, Inc. to build a new IHS enterprise Electronic Health Record system utilizing Oracle Cerner technology to serve users of the Indian healthcare system. This new EHR will replace the current system known as RPMS, the Resource and Patient Management System.

The Summit began with a presentation from IHS Chief Information Officer, Mitchell Thornbrugh on the general objectives, process, and timeline of the modernization initiative. Thornbrugh acknowledged the need for Health IT modernization, given that RPMS has been in use for 40 years and that its continuation is “unsustainable.” This modernization project, which began in 2018, is currently in the “Buy and Build” phase through the end of the year. Beginning in 2025, IHS anticipates beginning training, deploying, and operating the system, with a multiyear rollout in cohorts across IHS, Tribal, and Urban (I/T/U) Indian healthcare organizations. Thornbrugh also shared the governance model for IHS health IT modernization, outlining how federal responsibilities will be supported and informed by consulting and conferring with focus groups and communications with I/T/U partners. Thornbrugh extended an invitation for staff from Tribal and Urban Indian healthcare organizations to join these focus groups, which address Health IT implementation, interoperability, and data management and analytics.

One concern raised by Tribes during the Summit was the potential cost of the HIT modernization initiative to Tribes. Thornbrugh indicated that while it is estimated that the initiative will require approximately $600 million per year, the project only currently has $217 million in recurring funding. The estimated cost for the ten-year projected roll out is between $ 4.5 and 6.2 billion dollars. Tribal stakeholders inquired if advocacy is necessary to secure federal funding, and IHS representatives answered saying that Congress’s appropriators need to hear more about the significance of EHR modernization and what it means for healthcare in Indian Country to achieve full funding for the project.

Staffing was another issue Tribes raised during the Summit, sharing that IHS needs to provide estimates of additional staff necessary to implement EHR modernization. IHS indicated that while the agency is still developing the recommended staffing model for the transition, IHS is committed to fully staffing and supporting the roll out of the new enterprise EHR, alongside meaningful collaboration with local staff. Other logistics questions regarding the roll out phase arose, including concerns about support for I/T/U facilities using the RPMS system who may be years away from implementation of the new EHR. IHS provided assurances that support for the RPMS system will be available until all facilities are able to use the new enterprise system, and that legacy data will continue to be accessible.

If you are a Tribal or Urban Indian subject matter expert interested in joining a focus group to provide input on the planning, design, and implementation of the EHR modernization initiative, you can email [email protected] with your name, credentials, and the focus groups you would like to join. Additionally, to advise the IHS of an I/T/U’s interest in participating in the IHS Enterprise EHR, you can complete this statement of interest and return it to [email protected].

National Indian Health Board
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