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VA, DoD to expand health information exchanges

Aug. 29, 2012 - 03:29PM   |  
Barclay P. Butler, director of the DoD/VA Interagency Program Office, speaks during a interview Tuesday.
Barclay P. Butler, director of the DoD/VA Interagency Program Office, speaks during a interview Tuesday. (Thomas Brown / Staff)

The Veterans Affairs and Defense departments are ready to expand 13 pilot programs and offer veterans’ health information exchanges nationwide.

The new exchanges will build on the success of the pilots, where VA and DoD physicians in Indianapolis, Richmond, Va., San Diego and other cities share veterans’ health data with each other and the private sector.

The move is a major step toward fulfilling an administration initiative called the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER), which requires VA and DoD to provide service members and veterans with seamless health care and online access to their health and other personal data throughout their lifetimes.

“The next step is to further that deployment, but in a focused way,” Barclay Butler, director of the VA-DoD Interagency Program Office, said Tuesday. The office oversees the VLER initiative and the departments’ efforts to build an integrated electronic health record.

Butler’s office first is developing a plan to expand the exchanges in regions and communities where health care providers participate in the Nationwide Health Information Network — an initiative led by the Health and Human Services Department to securely exchange health information using common standards and protocols. The areas, still to be determined, must also have large populations of veterans and service members.

The goal is to expand the exchanges to every military and VA treatment facility and to private-sector health care providers that treat vets and military members. Kaiser Permanente, MedVirginia and Inland Northwest Health Services are among the private-sector organizations participating in VLER.

One challenge in building electronic health records and the exchange of those records among health care providers is getting buy-in from veterans. They must consent to having their health information shared.

“What generates exchange is they show up at a VA facility or private-sector facility that is part of the exchange,” VA chief information officer Roger Baker has said.

Last fiscal year, 38,000 veterans agreed to participate in the pilots, according to an annual report on the status of joint VA and DoD health initiatives. The goal was to have at least 50,000 to 100,000 vets sign up for health exchanges.

Butler announced expansion of the exchanges during an event hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s Northern Virginia chapter. The VA-DoD Joint Executive Council, co-chaired by VA Deputy Secretary Scott Gould and Erin Conaton, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, gave the go-ahead to expand the effort nationwide. The council found that a sufficient number of veterans were participating in the pilots and had confidence in the departments’ ability to replicate secure information exchanges in geographically diverse regions of the country.

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