The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are making progress on integrating the health records of service members and veterans, senior government officials told the House Veterans Affairs Committee Feb. 27.
President Barack Obama directed the two departments to create a seamless system of integration for medical records.
ìThe direction was clear: When a member of the armed forces separates from the military, their electronic records, medical, personnel and benefits will transition and remain with them forever,î said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
Woodson detailed the tasks the two departments need to complete. First, they need to integrate health data for individuals into a single electronic health record. Second, they need to modernize the departmentsí legacy health information systems.
ìWe have made tangible progress on a number of critical elements necessary to achieve our vision on the integrated record,î Woodson said. This includes creating a joint health data dictionary, ensuring the two departments use the same precise language to describe health data elements and fields in the combined health record system.
It also means moving VA data centers to the Defense Information System Agency. Woodson called this an important step for efficiency in operations and creating a single repository of data. The two departments also selected a single DOD-VA joint single sign-on and contact management solution that accurately identifies clients in both systems, he reported.
Finally, Woodson said, the two Cabinet agencies are implementing a joint graphical user interface that displays information from both the DOD and VA systems at the same time.
We also completed an initial life-cycle cost estimate for the integrated electronic health record, Woodson said. The cost estimate was significant. And given the increasingly constrained federal budget environment, our secretary has directed us to re-evaluate the planned approach and consider alternatives that could accelerate timelines for interoperability at reduced cost and reduced risk.
The scope of this project is huge. Valerie C. Melvin, the Government Accounting Officeís director of information management and technology resources issues, said the records are projected to provide coverage to about 9.6 million service members and their beneficiaries and to 6.3 million veterans.
VA’s and DOD’s systems have many common business needs for providing health care coverage to these individuals, Melvin told the representatives. Toward this end, the two departments have an extensive history of working to achieve shared health care resources. Our work has examined the departmentsí efforts over the last 15 years to share data between their individual systems and to develop interoperable electronic health record capabilities.
They have made progress, but problems remain, she acknowledged. Overall, VA and DOD have relied on a patchwork of initiatives involving their separate health information systems to achieve varying degrees of electronic health record interoperability, Melvin said.
Circumstances require decisive action, Woodson said, and delay would only increase the cost and risk of this program.
We believe the path we have chosen best serves the departments, the special populations whom we jointly are responsible for, and the American taxpayer,î he said.