Electronic Health Records

Integration & Interoperability News

New VA Partnership for Electronic Health Information Exchange

The partnership will help the Social Security Administration access electronic health information from VA to process disability insurance claims.

By Sara Heath

The Department of Veterans Affairs, Social Security Administration (SSA), and The Sequoia Project’s eHealth Exchange have partnered to exchange electronic health information for veterans looking to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, according to a press release.

The health data exchange, which will be hosted on VA’s Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER), will help process VA patient requests for social security disability benefits.

The SSA requests almost 15 million medical records for the three million disability claims it processes annually. Enabling seamless, digital health data exchange will ideally save the administration time and money.

“Currently, when eligible Veterans apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits the average wait time for Social Security to receive paper records from VA can take months,” said VA Undersecretary for Health David Schulkin, MD. “This partnership allows Social Security and VA to share the Veteran’s health information electronically in minutes.”

According to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, the partnership is another step forward for VA interoperability.

“This SSA-VA partnership is another example of VA’s leadership in interoperability efforts among federal partners,” McDonald said in a VA press release. “Increasing federal partnerships to improve operation and resource coordination across agencies is among VA’s 12 Breakthrough Priorities for 2016.”

The eHealth Exchange is also supporting the Department of Defense Military Health System by enabling better health data exchange between MHS and private sector providers.

Considering the breadth of veteran’s health concerns and their often disparate providers, this is a significant step forward in improving care coordination and care quality, according to eHealth Exchange leaders.

About one-third of outpatient and 40 percent of inpatient care for MHS beneficiaries was delivered by a private sector provider, eHealth Exchange reports. Additionally, one-third of MHS beneficiary prescriptions were filled at private sector pharmacies.

“The military population has unique care needs due to their types of injuries as well as the mobile nature of deployments,” stated Michael Matthews, eHealth Exchange Coordinating Committee Member and Board Chair for The Sequoia Project.

“Regardless of what a patient is being treated for or where they are being treated, collaboration with the private sector via the eHealth Exchange helps deliver effective care for veterans, servicemen and women as well as their families.”

These electronic health data exchange steps come in the midst of interoperability woes for the VA and DoD. In a July hearing of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies subcommittee, Senate leaders expressed frustration with the lack of interoperability progress the agencies have been making on its VistA EHR.

Senators Mark Kirk and Jon Tester lamented that the VA still could not share an entire copy of a patient’s health record. When providers cannot see critical health data such as lab results or images, they cannot provide the highest quality healthcare, the Senators argued.

A final report from the Commission on Care called for VA to fully replace its EHR system, citing external forces that make the current system infeasible. The July report suggests that the current EHR system is too far gone to repair.

"Due to excessive project management overhead, a complex legacy IT infrastructure that is difficult to modernize, and more than 130 variations of the primary software system deployed across VHA medical facilities, the implementation of improved IT capabilities in the last 10 years has been extremely limited," the authors wrote.

"VA is currently weighing whether to continue to modernize VistA or purchase a COTS health information technology platform," they continued. "The Commission recommends moving to a COTS program."

Overall, the Commission on Care called for the VA to adopt an EHR system that can serve all VA healthcare sites, can be interoperable with all VA, DoD, and community providers, is fully secure, and can leverage a unique, national patient identifier.

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