Navy Medicine CIO: We are communicating with VA on EHR efforts

The CIO for Navy Medicine insisted this week that the Department of Defense is maintaining open communication lines with the Department of Veterans Affairs on electronic health record efforts.

In the closing keynote at the Government Health IT Conference & Exhibition in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Navy Medicine CIO CDR Cayetano Thornton--joined by Military Health System CIO David Bowen--candidly addressed concerns about a widening gap between the two agencies following Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's announcement last month that DoD would be exploring commercial options for its own EHR system.

"There's some confusion … [but] it's not true that we're moving away from the VA," Thornton said. "We're an extension of the VA; they're a part of our brother and sisterhood. The VA has the VistA system and that works for them. Within DoD our requirements are somewhat unique."

Thornton said that getting DoD's data repository in sync with the VA might be too much of a challenge, but wouldn't rule out VistA as an option either.

"Hands down, it's the best for us" to go out and get a commercial solution, Thornton said. "Is it possible that it could be VistA? Maybe. But there are commercial grade solutions that could literally plug and play and provide the utility we need in terms of health information.

"That doesn't mean we're not talking to the VA," he added. "It's actually the opposite. … In the end, I anticipate a world class system that allows us to capture and exchange health information within DoD and VA, and with our commercial partners."

Bowen said the length and structure of the acquisition remain up in the air.

"People ask 'What's in the core?'" he said. "It depends on our vendor responses. … Installation is really where the rubber will meet the road, though."

Regarding standardization, Bowen added that DoD has talked extensively with Kaiser about their implementation efforts.

That same day, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), speaking at the Senate Budget Committee's hearing on DoD's 2014 spending plan, blasted the decision to look for a commercial solution, saying that a single joint open-source EHR system "clearly" would have been the best option.

"This would have been the most effective solution and would have revolutionized the market," Murray said. "I think everyone in this room is concerned you spent hundreds of millions of tax dollars--and thousands of staff hours over the last few years--trying to create an integrated IT platform with the VA only to announce you were unable to come to a solution."

Murray added that in the midst of looming budget challenges, effective collaboration between DoD and VA is essential now more than ever.

To learn more:
- here's Murray's statement