Veterans Affairs officials on Friday announced a new data-sharing partnership with 13 major health care systems across America to better track and improve veterans’ medical care.

The agreement covers more than 250 hospitals and nearly 4,000 medical centers with hundreds of thousands of patients. Under the partnership, the outside health care companies will help ensure veterans are getting needed treatments and benefits by exchanging information with the VA on veterans’ routine care and specialty medical requests.

“This pledge will improve veteran health care by giving us seamless, immediate access to a patient’s medical history, which will help us make timely and accurate treatment decisions,” VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement announcing the partnership.

“It will also empower VA to send helpful information to our partner health systems that they can then offer to veterans in their care — including information about new benefits we are offering under the PACT Act, no-cost emergency suicide care, and more.”

The systems partnering with VA are Emory Healthcare, Inova, Jefferson Health, Sanford Health, University of California Davis Health, Intermountain Health, Mass General Brigham, Rush Health, Tufts Medicine, Marshfield Clinic, Kaiser Permanente Health Plan and Hospitals, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Atrium Health.

VA officials said staff at sites operated by those companies will begin collecting from patient data on veteran status, medical history and past interactions with VA. Employees will also provide information on department and community resources for veterans, “especially VA services that lower veterans’ out-of-pocket expenses.”

In a release explaining the partnership, department officials said that the arrangement could benefit both patients and providers by better outlining what resources are available to the veterans.

“This type of information sharing could help inform a non-VA doctor that a veteran experiencing an acute suicidal crisis should receive care at no cost, under VA’s new policy,” the department explainer stated. “Additionally, it could inform a non-VA doctor about how the PACT Act could help a veteran patient, thus empowering the provider to encourage that veteran to file for benefits.”

Only about half of all veterans living in America today are enrolled in VA health care. Department leaders have said that finding ways to connect VA services to the others is critical for efforts such as preventing veteran suicide and tracking illnesses linked to military service.

VA officials pledged publicly that they will safeguard the privacy and security of all veteran information involved in the data sharing. Collection is scheduled to begin later this month.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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