Feds map progress on road to health IT

Friday - 5/28/2010, 7:20am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

Sometime around the third week of June, the Department of Health and Human Services is expected to provide the latest guidelines to the health care community, and to federal agencies, regarding the effort to put in place a uniform system of electronic medical health records nationwide.

Meanwhile, some of the federal officials who are engaged in the "health IT" push here in Washington paused to offer insights into their work during the May luncheon of AFFIRM, the Association for Federal Information Resource Management, held yesterday at the George Washington University in D.C..

Scott Cragg is a special assistant to the Chief Information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He talked about the challenge to his agency, which oversees one of the largest health care systems in the world.

306,000 employees at VA, serving 25 million veterans nationwide. And the number is growing. Eight million accounts for benefits or health care, serving 6 million specific veterans. We have 150 hospitals. We had 153 until the hurricane, and we're building more because we need to.

Cragg says his biggest mandate right now: taking the VA's very successful VISTA health records management system, and helping it to transition into a new realm of upgraded open source software and hardware systems -- all while meeting the mandate to become part of a nationwide electronic health records network.

The things I've focused on have been governance, intellectual property, ecosystems and environments that are essential to open source success. And those of you who are in the open source environment know what that means. It's peculiar to us, we don't normally do this in government. DoD has taken steps forward, we're certainly doing it at VA, and we need to do this while we insure that everything we do today, the care that we provide, the information we collect, the success we have, is not risked by anything we do to expand, or be agressive.

In the same way. Navy Captain Michael Weiner, Chief Medical Officer with the Pentagon's Defense Health Information Management System, says his efforts to help the Defense Department sync up with the VA, and eventually, with the electronic records in the civilian world, are centered around the promise of better patient care through shared medical data.

I had a cardiac cath (catheterization) up in Maine. I now go down to Florida to catch some sun. I'm down in Florida, and I have some chest pain, and I roll into the ER. And what would it take, on a Sunday, in today's world, to get that cardiac cath report? It would be a long process. I'd probably get cathed again. And there's a cost to that.

Weiner believes it is possible to deliver "better care, safer care, and decrease costs, by this connection to the nationwide health information network."

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