House committee withholds funds to VA, DoD to spur EHR collaboration

The House Appropriations Committee has opted to withhold most of the funds requested by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to upgrade its electronic health record system until the VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) make progress on a joint EHR, according to an article in the Military Times.

At a hearing April 9, the committee approved a plan to hold back 75 percent of the requested funds in the VA's 2015 budget until the VA and the DoD address the issue. Similar language is expected for the DoD's budget, which will be reviewed in May. The Defense Health Agency has requested $1.6 billion to support operations and maintenance of its health information management services, and another $91.3 million to develop a new EHR by 2017.

"If they want their money, they're going to have to earn it," Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), chair of the committee's military construction and veteran's affairs panel, said.

Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) blamed much of the lack of collaboration on DoD's "unwillingness" to adopt the VA's established EHR system, according to the article. That appears to be corroborated by DoD's recent activities which have sent mixed signals regarding EHR integration, asking for a budget increase that would more than triple funds for its work on an integrated EHR, but also issuing a request for proposal to upgrade its legacy EHR.

The VA, for its part, had not given up on integrating its EHR system with DoD's, entering its own system as a contender in response to DoD's request for proposal.

The VA and DoD had worked for years to integrate their EHRs, a project that ultimately was abandoned in 2013.  Subsequent efforts to collaborate have been lackluster, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.

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