Gates, Shinseki Agree to Joint Electronic Medical Records

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2011 — Two years after they joined Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma in announc­ing plans to cre­ate a Joint Vir­tu­al Life­time Elec­tron­ic Record, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates and Vet­er­ans Affairs Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­se­ki have agreed to cre­ate a joint com­mon plat­form for their depart­ments’ elec­tron­ic med­ical records.
Gates and Shin­se­ki agreed in con­cept to cre­ate the joint com­mon plat­form dur­ing a March 17 ses­sion, giv­ing their staffs an ear­ly May dead­line to come up with an imple­men­ta­tion plan, VA Deputy Sec­re­tary W. Scott Gould told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

“They slapped the table and said, ‘Okay, in con­cept we agree,’ ” Gould said dur­ing an inter­view while attend­ing the 25th Nation­al Dis­abled Vet­er­ans Win­ter Sports Clin­ic in Snow­mass Vil­lage, Colo. 

Now DOD and VA are at work to deter­mine if a joint e‑platform will sup­port their sep­a­rate process­es. DOD cur­rent­ly uses the Armed Forces Health Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Tech­nol­o­gy Appli­ca­tion, or AHLTA sys­tem, and is tran­si­tion­ing to the more com­pre­hen­sive, real-time Elec­tron­ic Health Record Way Ahead sys­tem. VA uses the 20-plus-year-old Vet­er­ans Health Infor­ma­tion Sys­tems and Tech­nol­o­gy Archi­tec­ture, or VistA. 

Gould expressed con­fi­dence that a joint sys­tem will work for both the Defense Depart­ment and VA

“And the rea­son­ing is pret­ty sound,” he said. “Nine­ty per­cent of the med­i­cine in DoD and VA is the same. So why should­n’t we have one sys­tem, and only have the tax­pay­er pay to build it once?” 

The 2010 Defense-VA Inter­a­gency Pro­gram Office report to Con­gress not­ed that the two depart­ments share nine of the 13 core func­tion­al capa­bil­i­ties for an elec­tron­ic health record, Gould said. 

“This shows the kind of lead­er­ship that both Sec­re­tary Shin­se­ki and Sec­re­tary Gates bring to the table,” he said. “They are com­mit­ted. They want to make a dif­fer­ence. And they are chal­leng­ing both their deputies and their entire orga­ni­za­tions to cut through the red tape and get it done. And [Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary] Bill Lynn and I are hard at work to make that happen.” 

Shin­se­ki told a Sen­ate Appro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee sub­com­mit­tee March 31 the deal fol­lowed about two years of dis­cus­sions. He said DOD is “look­ing for new direc­tion” for its own elec­tron­ics record sys­tem, while not­ing the need to update VA’s own aging system. 

“We have a ter­rif­ic elec­tron­ic health record, but again, it’s about 20 years in being,” Shin­se­ki said of VA’s VistA sys­tem. “So, we’re going to have to adjust also to ensure the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of that sys­tem. It’s a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for both of us to put our heads together.” 

Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Per­son­nel and Readi­ness Clif­ford L. Stan­ley called the ini­tia­tive an exam­ple of clos­er inter-depart­men­tal coop­er­a­tion that’s improv­ing effi­cien­cies and pro­vid­ing bet­ter patient care. 

“We are work­ing even ever more close­ly with our col­leagues in the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans’ Affairs to ensure our activ­i­ties are bet­ter coor­di­nat­ed to include the dis­abil­i­ty eval­u­a­tion process, the shar­ing of per­son­nel and health infor­ma­tion, and col­lab­o­ra­tion on our future elec­tron­ic health record,” Stan­ley told the House Armed Ser­vice Committee’s Mil­i­tary Per­son­nel Sub­com­mit­tee March 15. 

Dur­ing the same hear­ing Army Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomak­er, Army sur­geon gen­er­al, said that cre­at­ing a sin­gle elec­tron­ic health record will increase infor­ma­tion-shar­ing between the two depart­ments and pro­vide a bet­ter way to trans­fer patient data. 

“No two health orga­ni­za­tions in the nation share more non-bill­able health infor­ma­tion than the DOD and the VA,” Schoomak­er not­ed. “The depart­ments con­tin­ue to stan­dard­ize this shar­ing activ­i­ty under deliv­er­ing infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy solu­tions that will sig­nif­i­cant­ly improve the shar­ing of appro­pri­ate elec­tron­ic health information.” 

The agree­ment to pur­sue a joint com­mon plat­form for their elec­tron­ic med­ical records fol­lows the two depart­ments’ deci­sion in April 2009 to cre­ate a Joint Vir­tu­al Life­time Elec­tron­ic Record to smooth the flow of med­ical records between the Defense and Vet­er­ans Affairs departments. 

Five pilot pro­grams are up and run­ning to test out the ini­tia­tive before it goes nation­wide, Gould said. 

Oba­ma, in announc­ing the joint ini­tia­tive, described the advan­tages of a com­mon joint life­time record.

“When a mem­ber of the armed forces sep­a­rates from the mil­i­tary, he or she will no longer have to walk paper­work from a [Defense Depart­ment] duty sta­tion to a local VA health cen­ter,” the pres­i­dent said. “Their elec­tron­ic records will tran­si­tion along with them and remain with them forever.” 

Oba­ma explained that the new sys­tem will include both admin­is­tra­tive and med­ical infor­ma­tion from the day recruits enter mil­i­tary ser­vice, through­out their mil­i­tary careers, and after they retire or leave the military. 

“This would rep­re­sent a huge step toward mod­ern­iz­ing the way health care is deliv­ered and ben­e­fits are admin­is­tered for our nation’s vet­er­ans,” Oba­ma added. “It would cut through red tape and reduce the num­ber of admin­is­tra­tive mistakes.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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