The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon have expanded their health information exchange to allow community providers access to veteran and service member health data.
The expanded program allows all participating third-party community care providers a “single point of entry” to access health records, according to a VA news release. Now more than 35,000 hospitals and clinics have access along with 11,000 other medical facilities like pharmacies and nursing homes, a VA spokeswoman told FedScoop.
The VA and Department of Defense already have data-sharing capabilities and are expected to migrate their entire health information exchange to a Cerner-built system by the end of April as a part of the electronic health record (EHR) modernization project, according to a letter from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie sent to Congress April 3.
“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 Dr. Neil Evans, the interim director of the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization program office. “As the DOD and VA implement a single, common record, the joint health information exchange and the associated expansion of community exchange partners is a critical step forward, delivering immediate value to all DOD and VA sites.”
This latest announcement focuses on the new capabilities of allowing community care partners easier access to veteran health information, which has become more important with the launch of the MISSION Act in 2018. The law gave veterans more access to receive care outside of VA hospitals and widen other caregiving options. The expanded number of hospitals created new technical challenges to expand IT networks and information access. The VA aims to add another network of 15,000 community providers through the “CommonWell” network to the joint health information exchange later this year.
VA’s EHR modernization is a 10-year project that aims to eventually unify military service members and veterans’ health records database. The new system will replace the current Veterans Health Information System and Technology Architecture (VistA). The program has seen some delays in its rollout due to the coronavirus pandemic.