DoD, VA joint e-health record ahead of schedule

Monday - 7/2/2012, 3:32pm EDT

Barclay Butler, DoD-VA Interagency Program Office

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By Esther Carey
Special to Federal News Radio

The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are ahead of schedule on the development and implementation of an integrated electronic health record system, said Barclay Butler, director of the Defense-VA interagency office.

Butler said part of the reason for their early success is the lessons the two agencies have learned from pilot programs under the initiative, specifically the current test case in Chicago.

Butler said project leaders better understand the importance of medical professionals working together, and how critical it is for them to have one secure environment for all of the health records, said Butler in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

"We learned we need to have a single medical enclave to support the exchange of information," Butler said. "We can't have separate areas with separate firewalls."

More pilots planned

DoD and VA are getting ready to kick off more pilots in Norfolk, Va., and San Antonio. The plan is to start using the system for lab results and immunization records. Butler's office chose these two locations because each is in an area with a number of hospitals from both agencies and involves members from a variety of military branches.

A successful pilot involves providing clinicians with information from the legacy systems and showcasing the new capabilities of the system under construction, Butler said. The electronic health record developers are deploying the software and building the network at the same time with advice from clinicians. Their goal is to make the transition smoothly so provision of care is not interrupted.

The secretaries of DoD and VA recently rewrote the interagency office's charter to simplify the development processes and grant the necessary authority to the interagency office to get the job done. The staff working on this project increased to more than 230 from 10 people, Butler said.

Butler said the records system will enable the DoD and VA to provide a longitudinal health history for service members. It will let them "track our patients and their medical records from the time they raise their hand and swear into the services, throughout the services, and as they transition to the veterans, all the way to their final honors," thus improving the quality of services for every dollar invested.

It also will let either agency easily share with and receive information from doctors in the private sector. Butler said commercial medical offices provide 50 percent of servicemembers or veterans' care.

Esther Carey is an intern at Federal News Radio.

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