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Uncertainty looms over future of VA health records

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) faces uncertainty as it assesses the best way in which to meet long-term needs for its electronic health record system (EHR). One option is developing a shared system of military health records with the Department of Defense (DOD) in order to allow faster access to veterans’ records. However, efforts to achieve interoperability have proved challenging.

“The reality is there is no system that can support both DOD and the VA at the same time,” said LaVerne Council, the VA’s assistant secretary for information and technology. She spoke during a Senate subcommittee hearing to review the VA’s EHR system, VistA, or Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture.

The VA is on schedule to finish the next stage of VistA updates, said Council. She told the committee that the agency hopes the improvements will lead to more efficiency and interoperability by 2018. However, Government Accountability Office (GAO) official Valerie Melvin claimed that delays in modernizing VistA has caused the program to become outdated. As a result, the system faces technical difficulties.

Melvin contended that the VA and DOD interoperability initiative has been hindered by the lack of “outcome-oriented goals and metrics to clearly define what they aim to achieve” through interoperability. “We have not seen clear planning across VA and DOD.” Melvin testified that a modernized VA EHR system is still years away.

A 2015 GAO report recommended the two government agencies work together to create a strong healthcare network for both service members and veterans. However, the attempt was unsuccessful due to their different IT infrastructures. Council said the VA may either “continue with VistA, shift to a commercial EHR platform as DOD is doing, or some combination of both.”

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