VA, DoD officials to discuss EHR interoperability with lawmakers

Veterans Affairs (VA) and Defense Department (DoD) technology officials are set to meet with members of Congress on Tuesday to discuss looming interoperability issues between the agencies' electronic health record systems.

At a joint hearing of two House subcommittees--the Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations and the Oversight & Government Reform's subcommittee on Information Technology--VA CIO LaVerne Council and DoD CIO Terry Halvorsen will be among four officials testifying about current efforts and challenges to sharing health data with one another. Also likely to be discussed at the hearing, according to Politico, is the possibility that the VA could follow in the DoD's footsteps in procuring a commercial EHR system.

In July, a team led by Leidos, Cerner and Accenture won a $4.3 billion contract to implement the latter agency's EHR. A year earlier, the VA awarded a $162-million contract to Accenture Federal Services company ASM Research to modernize its Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) EHR.

For years, legislators and others have given both agencies flak for failing to make their EHR systems interoperable; in February 2013, the agencies decided to abandon development of a joint EHR.

In June, David Powner, director of information technology management issues at the Government Accountability Office, slammed the lack of progress by DoD and VA as wasteful in testimony before the House's IT and Government Operations subcommittees. Additionally, an amendment was added to the Senate's National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 requiring interoperability between the agencies' systems.

Now, in the wake of the DoD's decision, and a report published in September by MITRE on behalf of the VA, lawmakers told Politico they wonder about the sustainability of VistA.

The system, according to the MITRE report, is "based on a tightly integrated, monolithic architecture and design with numerous diverse functional components and associated interdependence," characteristics that "impose significant barriers" to its modernization.

What's more, the report said, "[m]aintenance and data sharing are further complicated because most [VA medical centers] have customized their local versions of VistA, leading to approximately 130 different instances of VistA across the country."

To learn more:
- here's information about the hearing
- read the full Politico article
- here's the MITRE report (.pdf)