VA, DOD launch joint HIE to ease data sharing with community providers

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) unveiled a joint health information exchange to enable medical providers at both agencies to share patient data with private sector healthcare organizations.

The joint HIE enables interoperable health information sharing between VA, DOD and community providers.

Participating community providers now have a single point of entry to request and access DOD and VA electronic health records (EHRs) for patients they are treating, the VA said in a press release.

“The recent COVID-19 pandemic underlines the importance for clinicians on the front lines to quickly access a patient’s health record, regardless of where that patient previously received care,” said Neil Evans, M.D., interim director of the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization program office, in a statement.

The benefits of the new joint HIE capability are currently available to all VA and DOD care providers and all participating community partners.

More than 2,000 hospitals, 8,800 pharmacies, 33,000 clinics, 1,100 labs, 800 federally qualified health centers and 300 nursing homes throughout the country have access to the HIE, VA press secretary Christina Noel said.

That number will expand later this year, as the VA and DOD plan to connect the HIE to CommonWell, a network of more than 15,000 community providers.

RELATED: VA delays first go-live of Cerner EHR system as project takes longer than expected

The VA has hit pause on its $16 billion EHR project to transition from its customized VistA platform to a Cerner EHR system. 

The VA decided in mid-February to push off its go-live date for the new EHR at its first VA hospital to July.

In a letter to Congress earlier this month, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the joint HIE remained on track for activation and delivery at the end of April 2020. He said the HIE was an integral part of meeting the main goal of the program by ensuring the two EHR systems from VA and DOD are interoperable.

Health IT vendor Cerner worked with the VA and DOD to launch the health data exchange of its overall EHR modernization program.

Speaking at a House Committee on Veterans' Affairs subcommittee hearing on technology modernization in March, Travis Dalton, president of Cerner Government Services, said the VA-DOD joint HIE initiative represented a significant step in nationwide healthcare data sharing. 

RELATED: VA asking for $1.2B more to continue Cerner EHR project

"It cannot be understated how important that is. It sets the stage for a national interoperability network of data with community providers, which is something we’ve talked about collectively for years and not accomplished. We’re on the precipice of accomplishing that and the VA is leading the way on that," he said.

The VA signed a deal with Cerner in May 2018 to move from the VA’s customized VistA platform to an off-the-shelf EHR to align the country’s largest health system with the DOD, which has already started integrating Cerner’s MHS Genesis system. For the VA, the Cerner EHR will replace the approximately 130 operational instances of VistA currently in use across the department.

By implementing the same EHR system and sharing the same healthcare data source, the VA and DOD will document care from the time the patient enters the military through veteran care in one single, common health record, the VA said.