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Orlando Illi: Unraveling a Web of Medical Records, One Veteran at a Time

Orlando Illi, Deputy Product Manager, Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care Team, Ft. Detrick, Md.
Orlando Illi, Deputy Product Manager, Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care Team, Ft. Detrick, Md. (Photo courtesy of the Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care)

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From the Partnership for Public Service
Sunday, March 1, 2009; 11:00 PM

Orlando Illi has been a man on a mission, a very personal mission to change the way the military handles medical records.

Three decades ago, Illi was thrown from a vehicle during an Army training accident, hospitalized for a month and left with permanent back injuries. Many years later the medical file detailing his injury could not be found when he applied for veterans' disability benefits, causing him great difficulty proving his claim.

Now a civilian manager working for the Army at Fort Detrick in Maryland, Illi is playing a pivotal role bringing electronic medical records to the battlefield -- a task that is helping improve the care of wounded soldiers and ensuring that injured veterans will not have to fight our government for the benefits they deserve.

"When I leave here at night, I know that somewhere in Afghanistan or Iraq that if somebody is injured or in combat and wounded, that data is being captured and that guy will know forever what happened to him," said Illi. "That's what keeps me going. That is the bottom line."

Illi, deputy product manager with the Army's Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Team, or MC4, has been a steady and persistent hand for almost 10 years in helping oversee the worldwide deployment, expansion and improvement of the military's electronic medical records system that today is used in 14 countries.

While President Obama has made electronic medical records one of the hallmarks of the recently--approved economic stimulus package, Illi and his team have been ahead of the curve. The Army's MC4 unit has already trained more than 33,000 personnel, fielded 28,000 laptops, servers and handheld devices used to collect 9.6 million medical encounters.

The system has made a real difference.

When a soldier is injured in Iraq, doctors and nurses in the field hospitals use MC4's system to immediately create a permanent electronic record of the patient's condition, treatment and medications -- digital records that follow the soldier to larger military hospitals in Iraq, Germany or the United States. This allows doctors to have the complete medical history at their fingertips, and to make quick and often critical life-saving decisions.

"We used the MC4 system daily," said Mary Miller, a nurse in St. Charles, Mo., who served in a combat support hospital in the Iraqi desert in 2007 and 2008.

``We would build a record from the get-go, from the first point of contact when an injury or illness occurred'' said Miller, an Army Reservist.

Miller said before the "user-friendly" system was put in place, a paper record was created and sent from the frontlines to the next treatment center with an injured solider. ``Things would get lost and there would be no continuum of care,'' she said. "Now they can pull up the record and see everything."

Illi's boss, MC4 Product Manager Lt. Col.William Geesey, said Illi has been a big part of the program since its inception and is "relentless and committed in everything he does."

"He's seen the program grow from only a handful of people in 1999 to an outfit that's meeting a global mission with a workforce of more than 250 people," said Geesey.

"Getting doctors and commanders to adopt new technology in the war zone has been MC4's biggest challenge, and remains so," said Geesey. "Orie's historical knowledge of the program and ability to collaborate with industry and military partners has been the difference between success and failure."

Army Major Kevin Peck, who served in Iraq and is now a chief information officer stationed in Korea, said MC4 technical support teams have been responsive to those in combat, providing software and hardware "way faster than anything else ordered when in theater."

"If I put in a ticket to get a problem solved on the ground, the guys get on it right away and work nonstop to fix it," said Peck. "They provide excellent support for the system down range."

Illi said it is satisfying knowing he is helping save lives and sparing other veterans the same personal ordeal he endured when trying to link his medical condition to his military service.

"Everyone else in this office feels the same way," he said. "We are all here for the same reason."

(This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Visit www.ourpublicservice.org for more about the organization's work to recognize the men and women who serve our nation.)


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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