GAO: VA, DOD said slow on sharing health data

Agencies have met three objectives and are closing in on three more

The Veterans Affairs and the Defense departments aren't ready to be fully interoperable in their sharing of electronic medical data, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The VA and DOD have made progress on refining social history data, sharing physical exam data, and demonstrating an initial network gateway operation, but more work is to be done on expanding questionnaires and self-assessment tools, according to a GAO report made public July 29.

The departments also must expand inpatient DOD medical records systems and demonstrate initial document scanning, the report said, adding that although the VA/DOD Interagency Program Office for interoperability of health records is operating it is not yet effectively positioned to be accountable for the departments' efforts to achieve fully interoperable electronic health record systems or capabilities.

“While the departments have made progress in setting up the office by hiring additional staff, they continue to fill key leadership positions on an interim basis,” the report said. “Further, while the office has begun to demonstrate responsibilities outlined in its charter, it is not yet fulfilling key information technology management responsibilities in the areas of performance measurement (as GAO previously recommended), project planning, and scheduling, which are essential to establishing the office as a single point of accountability for the departments’ interoperability efforts.”

The VA and DOD have been working toward electronic medical record compatibility for more than a decade. To speed those efforts, Congress in the defense authorization bill for fiscal 2008 directed that the two departments establish a joint interagency program to serve as a single point of accountability for achieving full interoperability of electronic health record systems.

VA and DOD officials generally agreed with the findings and recommendations but also disagreed in some areas.

“The VA Chief of Staff stated that the department disagreed with the report’s characterization of the six interoperability objectives and expressed concern about the report projecting that the objective to demonstrate initial document scanning would not be completed by the Sept. 30, 2009, deadline,” GAO wrote. “Specifically, VA stated that our report portrayed the six interoperability objectives as the necessary steps to achieving full interoperability, even though the departments consider the objectives to be just one component of achieving full interoperability, along with existing data exchange capabilities.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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