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Universal EHR to streamline care for active military and vets

The Dept. of Defense and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs are accelerating efforts to link their health information technology systems to coordinate care better for service members as they transition out of the military and into civilian life.

Leaders of the departments announced that they are moving toward using a single electronic health record system, for which the technology will be open-sourced and made available for use by other software developers. The integrated EHR will streamline administrative processes and encourage information sharing between the two departments, said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki during a Dec. 6 news conference.

“The new program provides a warm handoff from service member to veteran status to ensure all who served are prepared to transition into civilian life and that they have access to VA benefits and services they’ve earned,” Shinseki said.

Sharing between the departments with budgets the size of those for some small countries has not been easy. The bureaucracies have separate systems, rules and regulations, but it’s important that they are made to work together, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

“If service members, if veterans and their families are to get the kind of seamless experience that they deserve, then … our job is to make very clear that there has got to be good cooperation at all levels,” he said.

A detailed plan to use a single EHR and further coordinate health care efforts will be presented in January 2013.

President Obama announced in 2009 that the departments would develop a seamless integration system. It is expected to be the nation’s single-largest health record system, according to federal officials. The administration had set a 2017 target date for Defense and VA to abandon legacy EHRs in favor of the integrated system. The departments did not announce a new target date during the Dec. 6 news conference.

Since the initial announcement, the departments have begun sharing patient data to improve continuity of care. For instance, the Defense and VA Depts. have shared medication allergy information for 1.2 million patients.

The decision to develop a single EHR is a huge step toward breaking down the health information silos separating the entities, said Brian Ahier, who holds the title of health IT evangelist for Mid-Columbia Medical Center in The Dalles, Ore. Members of the military will gain health records that will be with them for the rest of their lives.

“This to me shows that interoperability is key — whether it’s the Dept. of Defense and the VA implementing a massive project worth billions of dollars or a local community hospital trying to connect up with physician clinics for better care coordination,” Ahier said. “Interoperability in health IT platforms is the only way to bend the cost curve” while improving patient care and health outcomes, and achieving reduced spending.

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