VA gears up to scanoutpatient records

The Department of Veterans Affairs last month began rolling out what is thought to be one of the largest document-imaging projects in the health care industry.

With its multimillion-dollar Automated Information Collection System (AICS) the VA will scan medical forms for the 40 million vets who undergo outpatient procedures every year at the VA's 170 medical centers nationwide. The contract's value has not yet been determined.

"This is the first truly enterprisewide application of this technology anywhere " said Scott Blau president of Datacap Inc. which supplied its software called Paper Keyboard to AICS prime contractor Electronic Data Systems Corp. "They've really developed a system that's something a lot of other people have wanted to do in other industries " he said.

The system will capture data that includes heart rate blood pressure weight and other health conditions. Traditionally the only information that had been stored electronically was billing information Blau said.Electronic records for outpatients should allow for quick transmission of records between medical centers meaning quicker treatment for veterans who visit more than one VA center.

In addition electronically available records will give officials a better picture of the health of outpatients giving planners and administrators better information on what medical services to fund and how to develop a plan for care.

Blau added that the electronic data on outpatients may become a clearinghouse for researchers interested in studying medical trends among veterans including Gulf War Syndrome an inexplicable ailment associated with soldiers who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and characterized by fatigue joint pains nausea and rashes.

Alan Skinner AICS team leader said "We are finishing beta testing and we expect to release April 24."The Datacap software which can be customized for each VA center will use optical character recognition and intelligent character recognition to read typewritten and handwritten information as well as checks in boxes on outpatient forms.

As the forms are scanned in via Bell & Howell Document Management Products Co. scanners they will be checked by VA employees for accuracy. The information will be sent across a network to the medical center's central system where it will be stored Blau said.

The procurement for AICS was not too intricate according to a spokesman for EDS who added that the VA bought the Bell & Howell hardware on its own and tapped EDS to do the integration using Paper Keyboard.

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