EHR slip up blocks veteran's deployment

The Department of Veterans Affairs inappropriately disclosed part of a progress note in a veteran's treatment record to the Department of Defense, leading a DoD physician to determine that the veteran should not be deployed, according to Veterans Affairs CIO Roger Baker. This information was among highlights of a press call the VA held on Oct. 14 to discuss its September report to Congress on data incidents at the agency.

Information is shared between medical record systems at the VA and DoD. But apparently, a DoD physician was able to see something in the veteran's treatment record that he should not have been privy to. The VA tries to be very careful not to share things with DoD that a veteran or servicemember would not want shared with them, Baker said. "We're trying to figure out how that possibly could have happened with all the safeguards in place. The concerning piece here is that it shouldn't happen one time. We have to ensure it doesn't happen any more than that."

Baker noted that limiting that what information two federal agencies can share with each other is a complex area. The VA is researching the incident. While the policy is clear that the information should not have been released outside the VA, the CIO's office is investigating how the particular information actually made it through to the DoD site. 

"We believe the protections are in place to keep this from happening," Baker said.

Still, he suspects that something in the progress note was shared, because the VA can't scan all the language in all progress notes to ensure there's nothing that might serve as a red flag over at DoD. Given the policy, it's possible that the VA shouldn't have entered the information into the progress note, knowing that it would be shared. Baker didn't think there was a systems issue, because the leak happened only one time. The VA may remind clinicians to make sure that in certain sensitive areas, things will not be entered into progress notes that might be viewable outside the VA, Baker said.

The veteran involved was upset about the disclosure, which made him ineligible for deployment on active duty to Afghanistan as a member of the army. He said that he did not sign a release to allow the DoD or Department of the Army to access the treatment records at the Readjustment Counseling Services of the VA.

To learn more:
- read the report (see p. 12)
- listen to the audio of the press briefing

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