Defense, VA lack common data exchange

Computer-based Patient Records: Improved planning and project management are critical to achieving two-way VA-DOD health data exchange

The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs remain far apart when it comes to sharing digital medical records, according to congressional testimony this week by the General Accounting Office's director of information management issues.

Speaking before the House Veterans Affairs Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, Linda Koontz said officials at DOD and the VA are taking different paths to achieve interoperability in the health arena, with no common architecture to guide the development of electronic data exchange methods.

"VA and DOD are continuing with activities to support the sharing of health data," Koontz said. "Nonetheless, achieving the two-way electronic exchange of patient health information, as envisioned in the HealthePeople (Federal) strategy, remains far from being realized."

HealthePeople is intended to increase the availability and use of high-performance, interoperable information systems to improve the health of people in the United States and other nations.

Koontz said a one-way transfer of data from DOD to VA health care facilities has been achieved but identifying the technical solution for a two-way change has proven elusive.

"The relationships between the departments' managers is not clearly defined, a lead entity with final decision-making authority has not been designated, and a coordinated, comprehensive project plan that articulates the joint initiative's resource requirements, time frames, and respective roles and responsibilities of each department has not yet been established," Koontz said.

For the past six years, VA and DOD officials have been working to achieve an electronic medical record and patient health information-sharing capability, beginning with a joint project in 1998 to develop a computer-based patient record.

"As we noted in previous testimony, the departments have achieved a measure of success in sharing data through the one-way transfer of health information from DOD to VA health care facilities," Koontz said.

She said the departments are unable to determine — or at least explain — how the two-way exchange will be achieved or when.

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