DoD, VA EHR projects must focus on interoperability

The Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs must not lose sight of the ultimate goal of interoperability in their pursuit of their electronic health record systems, lawmakers said in passing the 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Act in the House on Wednesday.

To help ensure this, lawmakers included funding restrictions designed to keep the spotlight on interoperability, reports Nextgov.

"The evolution and/or procurement of new health record systems is an important project for the departments to undertake, but it will end up being a futile exercise if the result is not the development of systems that will be interoperable, defined as the ability to exchange computable information electronically," according to the VA section of the bill.

"There is rising concern the departments will spend years and billions of dollars on their own electronic health record systems and lose sight of the end-goal of an interoperable record."

Last February, the two agencies abandoned plans to build a joint EHR, with DoD subsequently looking at products from commercial vendors and the VA working on an upgrade of VistA, its existing system. The omnibus bill transfers $251.9 million originally requested for the integrated EHR to the upgrade project, called VistA Evolution. It provides $32.9 million for the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record.

The bill, however, prevents the VA from spending more than 25 percent of the VistA Evolution budget until it explains to Congress how it will adhere to data standards set up for the integrated EHR. The lawmakers also want updates on testing to ensure compatibility with the DoD systems.

Meanwhile, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told comedian Jon Stewart that the joint EHR project failed due to turf wars among the technical staff, according to a second Nextgov story.

"At the end of the day, [VA Secretary Eric] Shinseki and I simply could not get the technical people to abandon their turf consciousness and their insistence on owning their own system and not combining the two," he's quoted as saying on Wednesday's broadcast of "The Daily Show."

To learn more:
- read the VA section of the bill
- here's the Nextgov funding article
- check out the second Nextgov story