OMB okays VA, DoD iEHR data-sharing plan

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During a July 10 joint hearing of the House Veterans Affairs and Armed Services Committees, VA and Defense Department officials laid out plans to continue pursuing two separate electronic health record solutions with the ability to interoperate in the "near term." This plan, according to a congressional source, has the approval of Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel.

During a May 23 closed-door iEHR roundtable, VanRoekel said he accepted the departments' plan to develop two separate systems and then "Frankenstein them together," said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

"He said, they can do whatever they want and at the end we'll make them talk," said the source.

During the joint hearing, DoD Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Frank Kendall's remarks echoed this plan.

"DoD and VA can share integrated records without having the same software to manage those records or to assist clinicians as they manage care," said Kendall. He said the two departments were committed to "build data management accelerators" this year.

"We send a lot of health record information electronically now," said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson.

Woodson added that the functionality of the data is "rather significant" and is better than "most private offices in the private sector and many integrated hospital systems in the private sector."

However, said Woodson, the shared information is read-only. By the end of the year, DoD and VA hope to make this exchanged data computable and interoperable, he said.

"Most of the information today is not standardized," said VA Acting Chief Information Officer Stephen Warren.

"A key priority for both departments is to standardize electronic health record data and to make it immediately available for clinicians so they have the information they need to make informed clinical decisions for our patients," added Warren.

It is possible that the commercial EHR solution DoD selects will be based on VistA, the legacy EHR the VA is refactoring for its health record modernization, said Kendall during the hearing. Of the 15 compliant responses to DoD's request for information on its EHR, three were VistA-based solutions, said Kendall.

During the May 23 closed-door iEHR roundtable, industry representatives complained that DoD's RFI lacked open standards, said an attendee.

"They didn't know what exactly they're competing on," said the attendee speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The roundtable made it clear that, "contrary to what VA, DoD and IPO have stated, open standards had previously not been developed or made available publicly," said another source within the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

For more:
- go to the hearing page (includes archived webcast)
- download the DoD's full testimony submitted to the committee (.pdf)
- download the VA's full testimony submitted to the committee (.doc)

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