DOD, VA exchange patient data

DOD's e-health record system to be ready in a year

After years of dragging their feet, the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments have achieved unprecedented sharing of health records. They have exchanged data on millions of patients in the past year, and the pace is accelerating.

In December 2005, VA doctors and nurses began accessing health assessments DOD made before and after deployments of active-duty personnel. This month, DOD is delivering to the VA the names of about 250,000 Reserve and National Guard members who have been deployed and then demobilized.

The Federal Health Information Exchange and the Bidirectional Health Information Exchange are the vehicles for sharing data among seven DOD sites and every VA hospital and clinic. Another 10 DOD sites, which include medical centers, hospitals and clinics, will be added this fiscal year.

In the future, next-generation interfaces will link the central clinical data repositories that the departments are building. As a start, they are exchanging drug interaction and drug allergy information and will add laboratory test results.

Chief information officers from both departments were scheduled to tell that information to the House Appropriations Committee’s Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee today. But subcommittee chairman Rep. James Walsh (R-N.Y.) abruptly adjourned the hearing after complaining that his staff had received the testimony only yesterday, too late to review it.

Walsh postponed the hearing until March 29.

Congress has pressured the two departments to share patient information. The goals are more continuity of care, less duplication of treatment and less data entry. The idea is that the records on military service members should follow them from active service and care at DOD facilities to veterans hospitals and clinics for care later in life. Two-way data exchanges are necessary because some veterans receive care from DOD and VA facilities.

The data exchanges come as the departments are upgrading their clinical information systems, which are already some of the most advanced systems of their size and scope. Exchanges are made possible by Federal Health Architecture standards, Robert McFarland, assistant VA secretary for information and technology, said in his prepared testimony.

“The exchange of…pharmacy, allergy and laboratory data between two separate systems has never been done on the scale that VA and DOD are working to accomplish,” McFarland’s statement reads.

The “VA and DOD are now conducting the initial planning for several projects to increase the amount of health data that can be shared,” including X-rays, it adds.

“Exchanging health information between departments will not only improve the quality of health care delivered but will also establish a federal model for electronically exchanging medical records,” said Carl Hendricks, CIO at the Military Health System.

Hendricks said two-way exchanges with the VA will become operational this month at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Such exchanges are already under way at Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington state, William Beaumont Army Medical Center in Texas, Eisenhower Army Medical Center in Georgia, Naval Hospital Great Lakes near Chicago, the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, and Mike O’Callaghan Federal Hospital in Nevada.

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