VA, DOD agree on joint platform for e-health records, Shinseki says

Agreement made March 17; next step is implementation plan by May 1

The Veterans Affairs and Defense departments have agreed to create a joint common platform for electronic medical records as they confront the need to modernize their respective digital systems, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said at a Senate hearing today.

Shinseki told a Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee that he had reached the agreement with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on March 17 and the next milestone is a meeting May 1 to review an implementation plan for the joint platform.

VA uses the complex Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), which is more than 20 years old. DOD uses AHLTA, which is transitioning to the EHR Way Ahead system.


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“We have had discussions under way for two years,” Shinseki told the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee. DOD and VA have terrific record systems, he added, but they are aging and will lack important capabilities in the future unless they are updated.

“We will have to adjust and assure sustainability,” Shinseki said.

The joint platform is likely to rely heavily on commercial products, he added.

Last month, Roger Baker, VA’s assistant secretary for information and technology, said VA and DOD were considering several options for a joint strategy on electronic records, including a single joint system or maintaining separate elements with common data standards, applications or interfaces. In a related project, VA recently asked vendors for input on creating an open-source development program for VistA.

Also in February, several lawmakers wrote to VA and DOD officials urging them to consider a single commercial platform for their electronic medical records, claiming that such a system would be faster to deploy and better for patients.

Baker said the lawmakers' concerns appeared to be based on a desire to include private-sector input in the modernization plans, which VA is doing.

“We appreciated [lawmakers’] input,” Baker said. “Our plans for open source will include a lot of involvement with the private sector…. We are getting closer to saying that we chose to select the open-source route.”

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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