Electronic Health Records

Adoption & Implementation News

DoD and VA plan to speed up EHR adoption schedule

By Jennifer Bresnick

Department of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki have announced that they will speed up their plan to integrate both departments’ electronic health record (EHR) systems, shifting the scheduled 2014 target date forward to 2013.  The two departments are currently planning to roll out an early version of their joint EHR and pharmacy systems to hospitals in Norfolk, VA and San Antonio in 2014, and have forecast full deployment to take place by 2017, but the Secretaries want to do better.

“Today, both Secretary Shinseki and I agree to develop a joint DoD-VA plan for accelerating this program, to try to integrate our health care systems,” Secretary Panetta said. “And what we said is that we want to be able to meet or beat the schedule that we’ve established as targets here. We’ve asked that that plan be presented to us by early January. We’ve got to do everything we can to move this on a more expeditious path.”

Although there is no specific timeline in place as of yet, the two departments have been conducting ongoing meetings to explore better integration of their services, aiming to make it easier for veterans to receive benefits and VA healthcare after they leave active service.  The VA is also seeking to modernize its paper-based benefits administration system, says Secretary Shinseki.  “In this department, we have one of the country’s best electronic health records, but in our benefits administration, we’re paper-bound,” he said. “So we’ve been developing this tool for the last two years. It’s in the process of being fielded now. It’ll be at 18 of our regional offices before the end of December. And we’ll be fully fielded with this automation system in 2013. That puts us on track to eliminate the backlog [of benefit claims] as we have indicated we would in 2015.”

Panetta said that the development of the EHR system was a “tough effort” that required both departments to “confront technical and bureaucratic challenges”.  When completed, the joint system will be the largest in the world, serving 7.8 million veterans and 9.7 military personnel through 59 military hospitals and 152 VA hospitals.  The facilities have a combined staff of over 350,000.  Such a massive system will benefit immensely from streamlined, coordinated, and easily shareable records, helping to clear a VA claims backlog of nearly 900,000, with 67% of those claims delayed by more than four months.

The VA and DoD expect to approve a new timeline next month.  Panetta noted that the joint collaboration “can’t be about turf…it’s about serving veterans.”  Secretary Shinseki agreed.  “Our meetings are all about focusing on making sure that those transitions are truly seamless, so that an individual who is raising their right hand and taking the oath of allegiance, swearing into the military today, when they choose to leave a few years down the road, whether it’s three or 20, that those records are already resident in the VA system,” he said.

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