DOD and VA achieve interoperability on health records, GAO says

But the interagency office is not yet ready for Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record

The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments finally have achieved full interoperability for their electronic health records and are beginning to move forward on development of a joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) for each service member, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

However, the DOD-VA Interagency office in charge of the interoperability project is not yet positioned to serve as a single point of accountability for the VLER, the Jan. 28 GAO report said.

“Specifically, the office does not yet have a schedule that includes information about tasks, resource needs or relationships between tasks associated with ongoing activities to increase interoperability. Also, key IT management responsibilities in the areas of planning and performance measurement remain incomplete,” the GAO report states.

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. In April 2009, President Barack Obama set an additional goal of developing a seamless digital medical record for each service member in a VLER system.

The DOD-VA Interagency office previously sought to meet six objectives for full interoperability by Sept. 30, 2009. The GAO, in a July 2009 report, said it had met three of those objectives.

Now, in the new report, the GAO said the DOD-VA Interagency office has met all six objectives established for September 2009.

At the same time, several new objectives have emerged, reflecting additional needs for social history and physical exam data, the GAO said. DOD also plans to expand implementation of its inpatient medical record system, and DOD and VA plan to test the capability to scan documents, which is a follow-up to their demonstration of an initial scanning capability, the report said.

The next step is the VLER, and while the interagency office has begun to plan for it, it is not yet ready to be a single point of accountability for the project, the GAO said.

“Nonetheless, if the program office does not fulfill key management responsibilities as GAO previously recommended, it may not be positioned to function as a single point of accountability for the delivery of future interoperable capabilities, including the development of the virtual lifetime electronic record,” the GAO concluded.

DOD and VA officials agreed with the findings.

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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