Electronic Health Records

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VA Transfers Paper Records to EHRs in Modernization Effort

Health IT modernization efforts at VA have recently turned to converting paper health records to EHRs.

VA EHRs

Source: Thinkstock.

By Kate Monica

- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently began the process of digitizing health data from older inactive paper health records to streamline claims processes and reduce the amount of office space used to store physical patient health information.

“This is just one of the ways in which we are modernizing our capabilities, not only to be more responsive to Veterans and their families, but also to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Acting Under Secretary for Benefits for VA Thomas Murphy.

Storing information in EHRs instead of physical records makes the data more easily accessible and reduces storage costs.

Almost 2 million inactive files were stored in 33 regional offices across the US before the decision to convert to digital health records.

After digitizing all health data through a paper-extraction process, filing a claim will be easier for veterans and their families. When an individual files a claim, the veteran’s EHR will already be available and accessible through VA’s computer system. This increase in efficiency will reduce processing time for benefit claims by reducing the time veterans need to wait to view their information.

Previously, if a veteran’s medical condition needed to be evaluated in a longitudinal fashion, retired paper files were boxed and shipped to a central location for scanning into VA systems before work on a new or supplemental claim could begin.

This most recent modernization effort is well underway. As of April 14, over half a million files had been retrieved from eight regional offices for scanning.

Once digitized, VA will archive and store the records in a less expensive long-term storage area.

By the close of 2018, the federal agency expects to have removed and scanned all paper claims records from the remaining regional offices and entered the data into its computer system.

 “This modernization initiative seeks to eliminate delays caused by shipping and digital conversion,” said VA Office of Business Process Integration Director Bradley Houston. “It will give claims processors nationwide the ability to instantly access millions of inactive claim records when needed.”

Digitizing old paper records is one in a long line of efforts to modernize the process of compensation and pension claims for VA.

Since 2012, 397 million health records containing 2.6 billion images have been scanned, indexed, uploaded, and stored in Veterans Benefits Management System, the federal agency’s electronic claims processing system.

During the fiscal year 2016, the federal agency provided compensation and pension benefits to over 5.1 million veterans and their families amounting to over $80 billion.

VA is also working to modernize several areas of its agency outside the realm of compensation and pension claims.

Last week, the federal agency announced it has chosen two vendors to improve and standardize its clinical decision support. Through standards-based clinical decision support software and improved health IT infrastructure, VA aims to improve the interoperability of its health IT.

Additionally, VA awarded Leidos Innovation Corporation a $29-million task order contract funding a year’s worth of work to optimize the agency’s health IT infrastructure.

These modernization efforts precede VA’s official decision regarding which commercial EHR will replace VistA, the agency’s homegrown system.

Black Book recently assessed five leading EHR vendors for their ability to meet four main initiatives of the Trump Administration. Across all four initiatives, Cerner came out on top.

Despite its high ratings in Black Book’s comparative survey, the assessment by no means guarantees Cerner will be the agency’s chosen EHR, and an official decision is not expected until July. 

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