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Defense Department, VA to Share Electronic Health Records

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2007 – The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are building a system to allow the inter-department sharing of servicemembers’ electronic health information.

The departments, which in 2001 began efforts to combine their data resources, are the world’s leaders in crafting a system to streamline electronic health information on such a large scale, Dr. Stephen L. Jones, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said in an interview today.

“Traditionally we’ve had this sort of long-standing relationship,” he said. “As a result of the wounded warrior issues that came about in February, … we’ve really enhanced and increased our efforts between VA and DoD.”

In response to reports that troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here were receiving sub-par treatment, President Bush created a nine-member panel in March, citing a “moral obligation” to provide the best possible care to men and women in uniform. Co-chairing the bipartisan commission are former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and Donna Shalala, former secretary of health and human services.

As of last month, the joint DoD-VA effort already is improving wounded warrior care at Walter Reed, where health care practitioners can access information about the care a servicemember has received since leaving the battlefield, Jones said.

“I’ve seen that demonstrated where an individual can pull that data up right by the bedside,” he said. “The Dole- Shalala commission said we should have all categories of health care data viewable by next year, so that’s our goal.”

Smith said the departments have hired a private business to examine the requirements for building a single inpatient record for VA and DoD. Results from that study are expected early next year, he said.

“If that comes to fruition, we would be using the inpatient system so that all those providers in VA and all those providers in DoD would be utilizing the same information technology,” he added.

Building a streamlined electronic health information system is a difficult undertaking, given the fragmented composition of a health care system made up of thousands of small health-care providers scattered across the country, Jones said. But such challenges are not discouraging the departments from achieving success.

“We’re trying to assist in those business processes and make sure that when that physician needs that information – what treatment has been provided to that individual or what tests have been run – that that information is available,” he said. “So when that individual is treating or diagnosing, they can do it on current information that’s right at their fingertips. That’s the goal.”

Jones said his is impressed by the joint DoD-VA effort to integrate their health care tracking systems.

“This has been the some of the greatest cooperation that I’ve seen between two agencies, between two groups of individuals – not only the leadership of VA and DoD,” he said, “but also those individuals who are working the (information technology) solutions between both agencies.”

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Dr. Stephen L. Jones

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