VA may restore access to DOD medical record systems soon

Veterans Affairs Department shut down access to patient data on March 1 due to errors

The Veterans Affairs Department is working to fix computer flaws that caused it to shut down all electronic access to Defense Department patient medical record systems on March 1.

The VA-DOD health data exchange portal may be reopened as early as tomorrow, VA spokeswoman Jo Schuda said today.

“A final decision on whether the portal can be reopened tomorrow is to be made at a meeting tonight between VA’s Office of Information and Technology and Veterans Health Administration officials,” Schuda wrote in an e-mail to Federal Computer Week. “The decision is pending work still being done today.”

The VA temporarily shut down its electronic access to DOD patients’ health records because of a series of errors and glitches discovered in accessing the data, according to a VA patient safety alert issued on March 3.


Related story:

DOD and VA achieve interoperability in electronic health records


The VA closed down its electronic links to the DOD health record systems after one of its physicians discovered an error when accessing a female DOD patient’s record through the VA Computerized Patient Record System’s Remote Data View. The data view is an interface allowing a screen display of a patient’s medical records.

The VA screen view erroneously listed the female DOD patient as having been prescribed a drug for erectile dysfunction. VA officials said in the alert that they confirmed the drug was incorrectly included on the list and, according to the prescription number listed, had been prescribed to another patient.

The data problems with the VA’s viewing of DOD electronic health records are extensive but intermittent, the alert said. The glitches are being experienced in the computerized system remote data view as well as in views obtained through the VA’s VistAWeb. VistA is the VA’s internal electronic health record system.

“Queries for DOD patient data may display no data, a subset of data, incorrect data, or the complete data,” the VA alert stated. “The VA clinician may see the patient’s data during one session, but another session may not display the data previously seen. This problem occurs intermittently and has been reported when querying DoD Laboratory, Pharmacy, and Radiology reports.”

No patient harm was reported; however, the system was shut down to avoid the potential for patient harm due to erroneous records, the alert added.

The VA’s Office of Information and Technology is actively working to identify and solve the problem. In the meantime, as of March 1, all VA access to electronic DOD records through the Web portal, which are available through the computerized system remote view and through VistaWeb, have been disabled. It is not known when capability will be restored, the alert said.

The first report of the glitches came to VA headquarters on Feb. 24 and emergency maintenance began at VA's Austin Information Technology Center, Schuda said in the email. Hundreds of changes in code were made on all data domains.

The VA and DOD have been working to exchange health data electronically for a number of years and recently reached a milestone in interoperability, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.

President Obama a year ago called upon the VA and DOD to develop a joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record that could follow each service member through duty and into post-duty care, including retirement. The project is currently sponsoring a demonstration program with Kaiser Permanente in the San Diego area to demonstrate secure data exchange.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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