Joint VA/DoD HIE program to add lab data, other elements

The Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense are expanding their Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) Health Communities pilot program once again, this time adding data elements instead of just new geographic areas.

For future rounds of demonstrations, VLER will include exchange of laboratory results, among other items, between VA, Military Health System and private-sector healthcare organizations, Federal Computer Week reports. However, it could be a year or two before the VLER program tests exchange "significant amounts" of clinical information, according to the publication. "We are building the VLER cautiously and in small steps," Norma St. Claire, director of information management for the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, said Tuesday at a conference.

The DoD and VA began VLER last year by exchanging information on patients jointly enrolled in either the MHS or Veterans Health Administration and Kaiser Permanente in the San Diego area. The departments now are expanding VLER to the Tidewater area near Norfolk, Va., a phase that should be operational by July 31. "We found out a lot [in San Diego], and what we learned we will bring to the Virginia Tidewater Area pilot," Dr. Steve Ondra, senior policy adviser for health affairs at the VA, said.

Like so many other HIE projects, VLER continues to struggle with identity verification and management. "We have a problem in making sure that 'Joseph Smith' in this system, and 'Joe Smith' over there, and 'J. Smith' over there, are the same person," St. Claire said. "We try not to use Social Security numbers too much. We are challenged in identity management."

To learn more about the VLER expansion:
- have a look at this Federal Computer Week story