VHA to consolidate vets’ health data

The initiative requires the agency to standardize data that has been entered in text form in the past, often with misspellings and nonstandard abbreviations.

The Veterans Health Administration is establishing a national health data repository containing data collected more than two decades of caring for more than 6 million veterans.

“We have finished copying all of the vital signs,” Dr. Robert Kolodner, the agency’s chief health informatics officer, told a reporter after testifying at a House Government Reform Committee hearing on health information technology. The vital-signs data amounted to 900 million observations of patients’ temperatures, blood pressure and pulses, among other things, he said.

Now the agency is moving on to consolidate records of medications, allergies and laboratory test results, Kolodner said. This effort requires a great deal of work to standardize data that has been entered in text form in the past, often with misspellings and nonstandard abbreviations.

“That health data repository will also serve as our link with the outside world,” he said.

Kolodner told the committee that about 40 percent of VHA patients also receive care from doctors outside the administration. VHA is working with the Defense Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and others to develop health records for veterans that will incorporate information from government and private health care providers, he said.

That means VHA must be able to provide all its records for individual patients readily, without searching through all the agency’s facilities for the information, Kolodner said.

In a related move, VHA is consolidating its servers in regional hubs. The consolidation is primarily intended to save money, he said.

As of September, the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, started storing images such as X-rays, pathology slides and wound photos in patient records at more than 40 sites. Those images, which will be stored at all 1,300 VHA hospitals and clinics nationwide as the capability is expanded, can be sent to other sites as needed, Kolodner said.

As for its personal health records initiative, My HealtheVet, Kolodner said more than 50,000 veterans have registered for online access to their records, and another 300 are signing on every day. Those individuals are using the system to obtain prescription refills, he said.

Asked about the financial impact of the veterans health IT systems, which are among the most advanced in the world, Kolodner said the VHA is treating twice as many patients as it was a decade ago, while its health care budget has increased only about 50 percent. He attributed the efficiency gains to IT.

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