VA, DOD will share patient records

The Veterans Affairs and Defense departments are on track to implement by Sept. 30 a single electronic health record that the two can use to exchange the medical information of patients who are active-duty members and veterans, the senior official directing the DOD-VA project said at an event March 26.

The two departments are incrementally building the health information technology project, but the electronic health record will have what clinicians need to treat patients by its deadline at the end of fiscal 2009, said Rear Adm. Gregory Timberlake, director of the DOD/VA Interagency Program Office, at an industry event sponsored by AFCEA-D.C.

A number of components have already been implemented as part of the two departments’ Bi-directional Health Information Exchange started several years ago, he said. The BHIE provides an interface between DOD’s AHLTA electronic record system and VA’s VistA EHR system, he said. For example, the two departments can exchange pharmacy and drug-allergy data on shared patients through a combined health data repository, he said.

“The future vision is for a virtual lifetime coherent electronic health record using a common services approach,” Timberlake said. Such a longitudinal record would include information assurance, privacy safeguards and rules-based access to protect sensitive health information, he added.

VA and DOD agreed earlier this week on the initial common services provided through a service-oriented architecture for the shared electronic health record, Timberlake said. Those services include single sign-on, identity management, the capability to access medical consults from either department and portability of records, he said. Implementing those services will require “well-defined data standards and architecture,” he stated.

A common services strategy would let the two departments incrementally add functionality to the electronic health record and adopt new business processes instead of “rip and replace” systems, he explained.

Over time, VA would extend the EHR to include other data that could be used to help determine and streamline the process for benefits to make it easier for veterans, said Paul Tibbits, VA’s deputy chief information officer for enterprise development.

DOD and VA are testing the integration of their health processes, physicians and records at VA’s North Chicago facility as the first Federal Health Care Center starting in October 2010, he said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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