VA budgets $157M for virtual e-health record interagency office

Veterans Affairs hopes to develop a Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record to allow secure and seamless sharing of patients' medical data

The Veterans Affairs Department is setting aside $157 million next year for the Defense-VA Interagency Program Office to  develop a Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) for all servicemembers, according to VA’s fiscal 2011 budget request.

The goal is to create a next-generation VLER system that will allow secure and seamless sharing of patients’ medical data between the DOD and VA.

“By the end of 2011, at least three sites will be capable of bi-directional information exchange between VA, the Department of Defense and the private sector,” the VA said in a budget overview released on its Web site on Feb. 2. “The prototyping and pilot phases will be completed by 2012.”

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Separately, the Defense Department's budget request includes $300 million to support efforts to develop the VLER, as well as to modernize the department’s electronic health record and medical IT infrastructure, according to a defense budget summary posted by the DOD Office of the Comptroller.

The VA also is budgeting $347 million in fiscal 2011 for its HealtheVet electronic health record system, which is the next-generation of the longstanding VistA (Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture) medical record system.

In the budget documents, HealtheVet is described as a foundation to VLER. It includes a health data repository, a patient scheduling system and a re-engineered pharmacy application.

“HealtheVet is the most critical IT development program for medical care,” the VA’s budget document states. “Advancement of VA’s HealtheVet program … is the future foundation of our electronic health record system.”

The DOD-VA Interagency office has been working on making service members’ and veterans’ health records interoperable for several years and recently attained major milestones in that effort, according to a Government Accountability Office report on Jan. 29

The next step is the VLER, which President Obama announced as a major objective in April 2009. The interagency office will develop a single electronic health record for every service member that will follow him or her through service and into VA coverage. Among the benefits touted for the VLER are paperless, automated exchange of information at the time of service discharge, in applying for disability benefits, and on an ongoing basis while receiving care.

In December 2009, VA began a health record pilot program between the VA Medical Center in San Diego and a local Kaiser Permanente hospital to exchange health data through the federal Nationwide Health Information Network. The Naval Medical Center San Diego will join in the next phase by March 30.

The VA and DOD currently share allergy and pharmacy information at seven locations on patients who use both health care systems. One of the benefits of sharing is that it facilitates automatic checks for drug interactions and allergies.

For the VA and DOD, the anticipated benefits of the VLER include a reduction in processing backlogs and benefits requests, improvements in coordination of care, and reduction of redundant tests and health care costs.

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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