By Brian Friel
Today, Claude Hines and his business partner Frank Tucker preside over a 70-employee business that handles a critical interagency case management system for military and veteran health. Their company, MicroHealth LLC, performs on a wide variety of federal health IT subcontracts and prime contracts, and even displays in its Tysons Corner office a coveted Stevie Award from the American Business Association for employing disabled veterans and providing free tools for veterans to calculate their benefits.
But there were darker days when the two Army buddies were just getting their business going, when they had to forgo paychecks and dial acquaintances in the hopes of landing a subcontract or two to keep the doors open on their dream.
“What we have is tenacity,” Hines says as he recounts the creation of MicroHealth, a unique company that draws on Hines’ and Tucker’s decades in the Army working on health IT modernization. “The military teaches you that,” Tucker chimes in.
During their time together in the Army, Hines and Tucker helped introduce electronic health records to the battlefield during the Iraq War. Hines combined his contracting expertise and IT program management knowledge with Tucker’s physician’s assistant background and medical system smarts to constantly improve military health IT. Together they took on a challenge that had never been tackled before: getting up-to-date health records into the hands of medical personnel in war zones and back to the homefront.
That tenacity showed itself as the two men looked to retire from military service at the end of 2011, Hines revealed to Tucker that he planned to start a business. Tucker was thinking the same thing. Having forged a bond working together on the military’s electronic health record modernization efforts in Iraq and back home, they decided to launch a company together. Given the intense interest in military health IT contracts among large companies, Hines and Tucker could have easily gotten jobs at established firms. Instead they decided to push out on their own.
“We have a friendship and a brotherhood,” Hines says.
Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Hampton, Virginia, Hines has been involved with the Army since high school, when he participated in the JROTC program. He continued in the ROTC at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and was made a lieutenant in the inactive reserve a couple years before graduation.
After graduation he became an active reservist and attended the Officer Basic Course for the medical service corps in San Antonio, Texas. He did so well that he was selected for one of seven active-duty slots, and headed off to Schwaebisch Gmuend, Germany for the first of two overseas assignments during his career.
Hines was stationed with the 56th Field Artillery Command as a medical service officer. One of his duties was to establish a smoking cessation program. Another duty, required across the board at the command, was to guard nuclear Pershing missiles. Hines donned night vision goggles to keep watch on remote German hill tops. “How many people get to stand next to a real nuclear missile?” Hines says.
Hines continued his Army service both at home and abroad at duty stations ranging from Fort Meade, Maryland, to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, to the Wurzburg Medical Department Activity in Germany. As he moved around, he played a key role in several of the most notable military health information solution developments of the past few decades.
During a stint at a key supply center in Philadelphia, Hines was instrumental in development of the first version of the Defense Logistics Agency’s Electronic Catalog ordering system for medical supplies, also known as ECAT. Hines has been called the father of ECAT, which enabled just-in-time shipping of time-sensitive supplies such as lab re-agents, some which only have a 24-hour shelf life.
Hines knew from time spent at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research how important it was for medical researchers to get those materials when they were still fresh, but he also knew that the acquisition system sometimes held things up. He designed ECAT as a rapid-response mechanism for ordering. He also made sure ECAT allowed buyers to track the status of materials in shipment.
ECAT is still in use today, more than 15 years after Hines helped create it. It was an early example of the three-pronged expertise—medical, technological and managerial—that define Hines’ company MicroHealth today. Hines and Tucker say that MicroHealth puts the health back in health IT. They were doing that long before they started the company.
After his ECAT innovations, Hines became Product Manager for the Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care, or MC4. MC4 is the system of systems for battlefield electronic health records for the Army. Hines was in charge as MC4 faced its first war zone test in the cities and deserts of Iraq.
MC4 needed to get communications equipment into theater so that electronic health information could be transmitted out of Iraq. Getting a shipment scheduled was a challenge, given that weaponry and food and other essentials took precedence in shipments to the battle zone.
Hines connected with a transportation specialist who gave him crucial information. Sometimes scheduled supplies didn’t show up, and if that happened, Hines needed to be ready. The specialist would call Hines, send trucks and get his communications equipment over to Iraq. The specialist had just one request: could he have an MC4 program coin?
A few days later, a slot opened up and the trucks came for Hines’ communication equipment. Hines gave the specialist and a couple of his colleagues MC4 coins. The equipment got to Iraq and helped Hines implement the first war-zone electronic health records effort. Hines and Tucker traveled back and forth to Iraq to troubleshoot and make the system work as well as possible.
“It ran,” Hines says. “It ran on the battlefield, in the dust storms, in the desert heat, on a bird.”
Hines had additional major accomplishments to go before leaving the Army.
• The deployment of theater electronic health records system on Navy ships;
• The deployment of electronic health records to the White House residence, Camp David and Marine One, serving the President, the Vice President and their families;
• The Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record-Health that serves as one of the key foundations of Defense Department and Veterans Affairs (VA) information sharing;
• The clinical information system development and deployment for the Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Center in North Chicago which is the first DoD-VA Federal Healthcare Center Those accomplishments have led to accolades. In addition to accepting the Stevie award for MicroHealth, Hines was inducted into the Army ROTC Hall of Fame at his alma mater, he is a recipient of the 2010 Federal 100 Award, and the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States Outstanding Medical Information Management Executive Award and the Legion of Merit.
After serving 27 years in the Army, Hines retired and founded MicroHealth with Tucker in 2010 and began working in October of 2011.
Most of its work is as a subcontractor for companies such as Planned Systems International (PSI) Attain, American Systems and 3M. MicroHealth is also in a mentor-protégé relationship with PSI. Hines and Tucker developed relationships and a reputation for understanding health, IT and management has helped them grow MicroHealth into a 70-employee business. “We have relationships and respect,” Hines says.
Building on its subcontracting success, MicroHealth competed for and won its first prime contract in September 2014, a $267,298 service-disabled veteran owned small business set aside with the Veterans Affairs Department for the VA VISTA Evolution Work Group Coodinator contract, a program aimed at modernizing the department’s electronic health records system. MicroHealth triumphed over 14 other offers, according to federal procurement records.
MicroHealth then went on to best seven other offers for a $2.6 million task order on GSA Schedule 70 for Health Information Technology support for the Defense Health Agency. That order was won in November 2015 and may run through May 2019.
Beyond the company’s paid work, MicroHealth also provides free benefits calculators to veterans, including a VA disability compensation calculator, combined VA disability rating and compensation calculator, a VA bilateral disability rating calculator, and a combined VA bilateral disability rating and compensation calculator, among others. The company also issues free guides to help veterans navigate the benefits system.
Hines and Tucker also go the extra mile to hire disabled veterans. “It means a lot to us,” Tucker says. “We know what it’s like to be a veteran and the hardships associated with the scars of war.”
As military and veteran health IT grow as a priority, MicroHealth is poised to play a key role in making sure military personnel, veterans and medical professionals have the information they need when they need it.