Electronic Health Records

Adoption & Implementation News

VA Secretary Shinseki sees iEHR as remedy for claims backlog

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

The backlog of claims for veterans should progress more quickly once the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) completes its transition to the joint interactive EHR (iEHR), according to the Army Times. In an interview published on Veterans Day, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki emphasized the department’s need to repair its disability claims process depends on the organization’s ability to implement the new EHR developed jointly with the Department of Defense (DoD).

The VA-DoD joint venture has come on Congressional scrutiny over the past few months because of delays in the rollout of the iEHR. During hearing before the House Committees on Armed Services and Veterans Affairs in July, officials from the DoD and VA indicated that the iEHR would not be implemented at certain test sites until 2014 and across all site until 2017. At the time, the revelation drew the ire of the chairman of the VA subcommittee Representative Bill Johnson (R-OH), who chastised Shinseki for not refusing to heed his earlier advice.

During each of the past three years, the VA has successfully processed approximately 1 million claims. However, a rise in claims as recently as 2012, in which 1.3 claims were received, is hindering the department from making a more significant dent in backlogged claims, reported Rick Maze. According to Shinseki, the implementation of the iEHR should mitigate the backlog. And with the resolution of lingering technical obstacles, the prospect of realizing the benefits of the iEHR for these claims could become tangible as early as 2013.

The challenge of transitioning to a new EHR is no small feat for any healthcare organization, let allow a federal agency which operates the largest integrated healthcare system in the country. The VA provides access to medical care to more than five million patients.  Not only must the VA see to the needs of current veterans, it must also work to guarantee a high level of care going forward for a unique and disparate patient population, many of which live in hard-to-reach rural areas.

Much of the VA’s progress will depend on its ability to identify key obstacles prior to its move to the iEHR. Just last month, both the VA and the DoD took significant steps toward assessing the risks of a large-scale data migration. At the end of October, the Military Health System (MHS) awarded Eleu Pacific Partners a two-year, $11.2 million contract to conduct a feasibility study of the transition and migration strategies to be used by the Pacific Joint Information Technology Center (JITC) — the testing ground for health information technology, management, and services for both departments.

Obviously, much work is left to be done, but Shinseki and the VA are optimistic that real progress will be made. Hopefully this time it doesn’t involve scrapping an entire project.

 

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