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VA, DoD pull back on electronic health records

Feb. 6, 2013 - 01:53PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 6, 2013 - 01:53PM  |  
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The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are abandoning ambitious plans to create a single shared electronic health records system in favor of a less expensive one built on existing technology, DoD and VA announced Feb. 5.

Since 2008, when Congress ordered the departments to create a seamless system of lifetime health records that would follow troops from recruitment to grave, the DoD/VA Interagency Program Office has worked to develop and deploy an integrated electronic health record system by 2017 at an estimated cost of $4 billion.

But the massive endeavor has met technology challenges and delays. To trim costs and speed up portions of the initiative, the agencies have decided to build a system based on existing programs.

The Defense Department currently uses the DoD Composite Health Care System for its electronic records, while VA uses the Veterans Health Information System and Technology Architecture, or VISTA.

The new effort will allow physicians at seven VA polytrauma facilities and two DoD facilities — Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and San Antonio Military Medical Center — to view clinical information across a common interface by July.

It also will allow VA and DoD to exchange real-time data by the end of the year and permit all patients to download their medical records from any computer by May, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said.

"Rather than building a single integrated system from scratch, we will focus our immediate efforts on integrating VA and DoD health data as quickly as possible. This approach is affordable, it's achievable," Panetta said.

VA and DoD officials, speaking at a news briefing, were vague on the estimated savings of the changes and the cost of the effort so far.

DoD deputy chief management officer Elizabeth McGrath estimated the savings to be in the "hundreds of millions."

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the former chairwoman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee who has championed the concept of seamless transition between active-duty and veteran status, called the announcement "disappointing."

She estimated the initiative already has cost the government $1 billion.

"What they are now proposing is not the fully integrated end-to-end IT solution this problem demands. … I intend to follow up with both secretaries to find out why this decision was made," Murray said in a release.

Panetta said the new system will help DoD and VA meet milestones faster at less cost.

"This struggle … has gone on for a long number of years," he said. "Some have argued we should build a perfect system. But for the first time, both DoD and VA have come together to say we can get this done in an effective way."

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