Strategy for Modernizing Indian Health Service Health IT

Published: December 05, 2019

Health ITIHS

Last month the Indian Health Service (IHS) released two reports revealing the top-level strategy for modernizing IHS Health IT (HIT).

The 25-page report entitled “Strategic Options for the Modernization of the Indian Health Service Health Information Technology Final Report” outlines recommendations in the areas of people, process, and technology to modernize IHS HIT.  The vision of the effort is to “Support the Indian Health Service (IHS) mission to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) to the highest level through modern, innovative, and practical health information technology.”

Specific Recommendations Include:

People and Process:

  • Honor the Federal-Tribal Government Relationship and its Unique Complexities
  • Create an Engaging, Modern, Convenient System for Patients  
  • Ensure Consistent Organizational Governance for Leadership


  • Engage End Users to Understand Their Needs  
  • Provide Full Support for Data Exchange and Interoperability Between IHS Systems and Components
  • Improve Analytics and Business Intelligence
  • Modernize the IHS HIT Infrastructure
  • Strengthen IHS HIT Security and Compliance

The second IHS document, entitled “Strategic Options for the Modernization of the Indian Health Service Health Information Technology Roadmap, Executive Summary,” presents a tactical roadmap for achieving project objectives. The roadmap document outlines project activities, milestones, and necessary stakeholder involvement, and establishes four key domains for HIT modernization.

The roadmap also lays out a high-level program plan and the timeline for FY 2020 – FY 2022 and beyond:

FY 2020 – Modernization Planning Phase One

  • Establish governance and Project Management Office (PMO) that includes stakeholders from IHS, Tribal, and Urban (I/T/U) health care
  • Establish and charter the HIT Modernization Advisory Committee (HITMAC)
  • Finalize HIT requirements and implement the acquisition planning process
  • Develop and implement Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

FY 2021 – Modernization Planning Phase Two

  • HIT selection and procurement
  • Develop a transition plan, including testing, staffing, and training
  • Gather and review end-user requirements for historic data

FY 2022 and Beyond - Modernization Implementation

  • Transfer historic data
  • Implement transition plan, including workforce enhancement and training
  • Test, pilot and implement the modernized system

According to the strategic planning document, the next steps for IHS HIT modernization include:

  1. Execute the critical plat to HIT modernization as referenced in the roadmap.
  2. Establish a program management structure to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive approach to HIT modernization
  3. Secure commitment to HIT modernization from clinical and technical leadership who must provide support for appropriate governance, resourcing, and accountability.
  4. Perform ongoing, in-depth analysis of the current IT landscape, including the review and endorsement of the identified applications, processes and additional artifacts developed.
  5. Augment and reference initial findings from this project and previous initiatives developed by IHS as required and ensure that the project maintains a comprehensive approach to HIT modernization.
  6. Ensure consistent engagement with tribes to establish and maintain transparency with and responsiveness to I/T/U concerns.

Modernization of the IHS HIT environment will be a multi-year process requiring hardware, software and IT services from the federal contractor community. Only time will tell whether or not IHS will choose to follow in the footsteps of DOD, VA and the Coast Guard in their selection of an EHR solution. Contractors should watch for opportunities in the areas of network and infrastructure modernization, EHR procurement, systems integration, data migration, and education and training.