VA, DoD nix plan for joint EHR

Budget and time constraints are forcing the federal government to deep-six plans for a brand new joint electronic health record system for troops and military veterans.

At a press conference Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said that rather than build a new system to replace the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs will focus on integrating their current systems via "existing solutions."

The new system had been scheduled to go live in 2017, with a preliminary rollout scheduled for 2014, though in December, Panetta and Shinseki said they intended to "meet or beat" that deadline.

"Over the last few months, [we] recognized that our worry is, 'How long is it going to take to get to that goal?' And 'What is going to be the price tag to get to that goal?'  And 'How many times is it going to be delayed?'" Panetta said.

"So we asked the managers of the joint program to take a step back … and assess whether we could achieve the president's directive much sooner and for much less money than had been budgeted.  With advantages in technology … and the work that our two agencies have already done, it turned out that we could."

Under the new plan, according to Panetta and Shinseki, all VA and DoD patients will download their medical records by May via the Blue Button Initiative. This summer, the departments will launch pilot programs on the common interface at seven joint rehabilitation centers nationwide, initially, and eventually to nine sites, overall; all of the facilities will be interoperable by the end of July.

By September, the departments will have a shared authoritative source, and by December, healthcare data will be standardized, meaning VA and DoD will be able to exchange such data in real time. The ultimate goal is to enable initial operating capability in 2014.

The altered plan, according to Reuters, is expected to save hundreds of millions of dollars; the cost of the initial system had been estimated to be roughly $4 billion.

"This approach is affordable, it's achievable, and if we refocus our efforts, we believe we can achieve the key goal of a seamless system for health records … on a greatly accelerated schedule," Panetta said.

To learn more:
- here's the transcript of the news conference

- read the Reuters article