Despite millions spent, VA-DoD interoperability remains elusive

The federal government spent at least $1.3 billion during the last four years on a joint EHR system, yet so far remains unable to fully share health records between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, according to an investigation.

The two agencies have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in attempts to make their systems integrated and interoperable, including $2 billion on a failed upgrade of the DoD's EHR system, according to the story, produced by News21, a national investigative reporting project led by college students.

The National Defense Authorization Act for 2008 mandated the ability to share records between the agencies.

Yet Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said at a July hearing before the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, "The only thing interoperable we get are the litany of excuses flying across both departments every year as to why it has taken so long to get this done."

The two agencies in February ditched plans to build a joint EHR system from scratch, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying he "didn't think we knew what the hell we were doing."

The DoD has since said it will look for solutions from outside vendors, a move a lead software designer for VistA has described as "paving a road to a hellish destination."

Members of the House and Senate have since introduced legislation to establish strict timelines for seamless patient data sharing.

Meanwhile, a Government Accountability Office report has been highly critical of federal efforts at IT innovation.

"Information technology should enable government to better serve the American people," the report's authors wrote.

"However, according to [the Office of Management and Budget], despite spending more than $600 billion on IT over the past decade, the federal government has achieved little of the productivity improvements that private industry has realized from IT. Too often, federal IT projects run over budget, behind schedule or fail to deliver promised functionality. In combating this problem, proper oversight is critical."

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