Senate Appropriations Committee approves funding for VA EHR improvements, telemedicine

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a bill that allocates funding for health technology endeavors of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, including the modernization of the agency's electronic health record system, digital scanning of health records and telemedicine use. The approval came one day after a House version of the bill received a similar green light.

Under the Senate bill, the VA would receive $260 million to update its VistA Evolution EHR, but only if the agency is able to demonstrate interoperability of veterans' medical data between itself, the U.S. Department of Defense and the private sector. Notably, VA CIO LaVerne Council testified at a hearing Thursday held by the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health that Veterans Health Administration Under Secretary for Health David Shulkin is in the process of evaluating her recommendation for a "state-of-the-art, world class" EHR system. She said the system would be interoperable with the DoD and the private sector, and expects the VA to go into more detail on its future EHR plans this summer.

Interoperability between the VA and the DoD, of course, has been a long-standing issue.

The Senate bill allocates an additional $180 million for a paperless claims processing system, as well as $143 million for the digital scanning of health records.

What's more, according to Politico Morning eHealth, the Senate bill disperses $1.17 billion for telemedicine efforts.

President Barack Obama's VA budget request for 2017 earmarked $1.2 billion to fund telehealth efforts. In a breakdown of that budget, it was noted that Veterans Health Administration Telehealth Services provided 2.1 million consultations to more than 677,000 veterans in 2015. The agency anticipates that number to grow to nearly 762,000 veterans in 2017.

The Senate bill was approved, 30-0.

To learn more:
- listen to the Senate hearing
- read the accompanying announcement
- here's the Morning eHealth summary
- get more information on the House Appropriations Committee hearing