GAO calls into question ability of VA, DoD to collaborate on EHRs

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Getting the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments to share electronic health records by focusing on modernizing their respective systems, rather than developing a single system, is easier said than done, according to Feb. 27 congressional testimony (.pdf) by the Government Accountability Office.

Last month, the two departments called off a joint development program that was to have resulted in a single system known as the iEHR. Instead, they have now decided to focus on "integrating VA and DoD health data as quickly as possible" and "interoperability and using existing solutions."

However, "this reversal of course raises concerns about the departments' ability to successfully collaborate to share electronic health information," testified Valerie Melvin, the GAO's director information management and technolog y resources issues, before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. 

"Moreover, GAO has identified barriers to the departments jointly addressing their common needs arising from deficiencies in key IT management areas, which could continue to jeopardize their pursuits," Melvin said.

According to Melvin, the VA and DoD face barriers in key information technology management areas. Specifically, the GAO found strategic planning, enterprise architecture, and investment management to be areas of weakness for the two departments.

To overcome these barriers, the GAO recommends:

  • Revising the departments' joint strategic plan to include information discussing their EHR system modernization efforts and how those efforts will address the departments' common health care business needs.
  • Further developing the departments' joint health architecture to include their planned future state and transition plan from their current state to the next generation of EHR capabilities.
  • Defining and implementing a process, including criteria that consider costs, benefits, schedule, and risks, for identifying and selecting joint IT investments to meet the departments' common health care business needs.

Melvin said officials from both VA and DoD agreed with the recommendations and that auditors are monitoring the departments' actions to implement them.

For more:

-read the GAO testimony (.pdf)

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