DOD, VA explore health connections

The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs collaborate on information technology systems, but they could do more, the head of military medicine told Congress.

Testifying June 21 before the House Armed Services Committee's Military Personnel Subcommittee, J. Jarrett Clinton, the acting assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, said the VA was welcome to use the DOD's Pharmacy Data Transaction Service.

The automated system reduces the length of time military personnel must wait for prescription orders to be completed, helps limit drug hoarding and improves patient safety, according to DOD health affairs officials.

The hearing was called to explore ways the departments can better share a range of medical resources, including IT systems and treatment and laboratory facilities. Subcommittee Chairman John McHugh (R-N.Y.) said there was a "relatively minuscule amount of resource sharing" between the two departments.

Clinton made it clear during his testimony with Thomas Garthwaite, the health undersecretary at VA, that DOD and VA have different uses for the Government Computer-Based Patient Record framework. He called VA's GCPR implementation at the North Chicago VA Medical Center "absolutely first-rate," and explained that it's based on the same architecture as DOD's GCPR.

But Clinton also said that the GCPR at the medical center was a system that "doesn't connect to anything." It therefore wouldn't meet DOD's need for worldwide connectivity. This remark created some confusion because GCPR is a framework for ensuring that the military and civilian health care providers can read security-protected health records.

A DOD spokesperson said Clinton was probably speaking about the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, an automated records system. DOD needs to use a system that can help officials move records from one hospital to another because military personnel move so frequently, she said, and the Composite Health Care System II program does that for the armed services.

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