Physicians spending a paltry twenty or thirty thousand dollars on their EHR implementations can take comfort in the fact that they don’t have to foot the bill for the recently abandoned joint VA-DoD EHR system, which would have cost the taxpayers $28 billion, according to Frank Kendall, undersecretary of Defense for acquisitions. In testimony before Congress this week, Kendall reaffirmed the new direction of the military health record program, stating that the DoD and the VA will be pursuing separate but interoperable solutions.
The Department of Defense decided to pursue customized commercial options instead of adopting the VA’s popular VistA EHR in May. “It is crucial to note that a seamlessly integrated and interoperable electronic health record with full data exchange and read/write capability can be achieved without DoD and VA operating a single healthcare management software system,” Kendall told the House Armed Services Committee and the House Veterans Affairs Committee in a prepared statement. Integration and data sharing will be facilitated by a newly developed graphical interface that allows both VA and DoD clinicians access to available records from both health systems, anticipated to be deployed by January of 2014.
Kendall was given control over the DoD EHR acquisitions process after the Military Health System fumbled the task, spending about a billion dollars on exploring an integrated EHR solution, but failing to produce results after a series of “perilous” and “detrimental” decisions. Kendall has now created a new office, called the DoD Healthcare Management System, to oversee the purchase and implementation of whatever EHR offering the Department eventually settles on. David Bowen, currently CIO of the Military health System, will be in charge of the new office.
But lawmakers were not entirely pleased with the new direction, even though the DoD and the VA have taken a major step forward simply by agreeing on a course of action. “The two departments are, once again, moving on their own tracks, with promises we’ve heard before about making two separate systems ‘interoperable,’” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL). “Pardon my frustration, but it seems the only thing interoperable we get are the litany of excuses flying across both departments every year as to why it’s taking so long to get this done.”
VA Undersecretary for Health, Robert Petzel, assured the Congressman that health data “will be mapped to open national standards — the same as those being adopted by the private sector — making the data computable and supporting health information sharing not only across DoD and the VA, but also with private sector providers.” Not only will this aid in transitions from active service to veteran status, but it will also enable the VA’s overloaded benefits administration to receive data easily in order to process claims more quickly.
“Veterans’ benefits are a vital extension of a holistic benefits package to sustain an all-volunteer force. DoD and VA are committed to working together to provide continuous, accessible, and quality health care for America’s active duty military and veterans,” wrote Kendall. “Achieving interoperability will mean the Departments will use a common taxonomy that provides access to human and machine-interpretable data by doctors and patients anywhere, anytime.”