Military Health System works out e-record kinks

Thursday - 6/10/2010, 5:25pm EDT

Mary Ann Rockey, deputy CIO, Military Health System

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We tell you a lot about health IT here at Federal News Radio, but one partnership stands out in the minds of many when it comes to thinking about the sharing of that information.

The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs often have to swap a great deal of information, but since both agencies are so massive, this doesn't always happen smoothly.

The Military Health System is DoD's enterprise for providing active duty and retired military personnel with health care.

Mary Ann Rockey is Deputy CIO at MHS and says DoD and VA share millions of records a year, but other information, as well, and this can sometimes be problematic.

"Our bi-directional health information exchange . . . is the one we were having problems with, which is pretty normal considering this is some leading-edge stuff that we're doing. . . . We have one-direction health information sharing. When a service member gets out of the service, we send information to the VA so that when they come into the VA, that information is already there. . . . The bi-directional one is two ways and it's for those folks who use both VA and DoD health care."

This bi-directional system is comprised of about 3.6 million patients. So, when a provider at the VA pulls up a record, he or she should see information from both the VA and DoD -- and visa versa for the DoD providers.

The system is complex, however, and large, and because of this, problems do occur.

"Recently there were some issues. There was a patient safety advisory issued by the VA where they had some providers with some incorrect or incomplete DoD patient information. So, in March, they actually disabled their system's ability to electronically view the DoD data. Some folks were concerned that on the DoD side we had not issued a patient safety alert on our side. That's because we checked our system when this happened to make sure that we could still see the VA data and to make sure we were still sending good data to the VA, and we verified that was the case."

She says they're currently working out the anomaly within the system that should be corrected soon. In addition, she adds that this only affects the electronic records, and both DoD and VA can still send records back and forth through other means.

"It's kind of the way most folks do it today because they don't have the electronic health records systems everywhere. . . . The way most folks obtain information today is through faxes and those kind of things, so we're using that methodology right now, but we should be up and running here shortly."

The current e-records system is actually acting as a precursor for the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN), which will eventually hold the health records of every U.S. citizen.

Right now, Rockey says, DoD and VA are working with Health and Human Services on the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER).

"That's to ensure our service members' records between both DoD and VA -- really follow them from when they come in the service all the way through their lifetime. It's all electronic and we can follow the service members all the way through. So VLER and NHIN are doing that for us, and NHIN will actually be the mechanism for sharing health data across the nation."