Gates, Shinseki Agree to Joint Electronic Records
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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.”