Metrics, goals needed to keep VA-DoD interoperability on track

The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have not met a key deadline in a quest for interoperability between their electronic health record systems, and need outcome-oriented metrics and goals to gauge their progress, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The report found that DoD and VA, with guidance from the Interagency Program Office (IPO), have taken steps to move toward data sharing, such as modernizing their systems, standardizing existing data and making it viewable in an integrated format.

However, the agencies failed to meet the Oct. 1, 2014, deadline--established in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 for compliance with national data standards--to certify that all healthcare data in their systems complied with national standards and were computable in real time. The departments have stated that they intend to do so by the end of 2015. 

Moreover, the IPO has taken steps to determine measures to monitor the agencies' progress but has not yet specified particular outcomes and established related goals, nor time frames for doing so.  

If DoD and VA continue on their current trajectory, interoperability won't be completed until after 2018, the GAO warns.

"Until [the agencies] establish a time frame, complete steps to define outcome metrics and goals, and incorporate these into IPO guidance, the departments and the IPO risk not knowing the status of program operations and areas that need improvement, and ensuring accountability for end results," the GAO states in the report.

The VA and the DoD have been striving to achieve interoperability of their systems for almost 20 years, and in 2011 committed to a new integrated EHR; however, they abandoned that plan in 2013. The VA is now modernizing its existing VistA EHR, while DoD is moving forward with a new commercial EHR product.

The inability of the two agencies to share health care data electronically has become such a significant concern that the GAO added this problem to its list of "high risk" areas earlier this year.

To learn more:
- here's the report