VHA looks to standardize its medical records

Before starting work with other agencies, the Veterans Affairs Department should establish standards for data sharing within its agencies, VHA's Gary Christopherson said.

Henrik G. DeGyor

Move would precede standards for interagency e-gov effort

The Veterans Health Administration is looking to set data standards and is tinkering with the design of its national health data repository as it proceeds with the modernization of the nation's largest health information system.

The 20-year-old Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture has served the Veterans Affairs Department well, but it is based on the aging M language and is expensive to maintain.

VISTA is used by 174 medical centers and 800 clinics and supports about 4.1 million veterans annually. But the centers use varied data elements, so VHA wants to standardize its information. The change will make it easier for VHA facilities to share data.

As part of its modernization plan, VHA will rename the system HealtheVet-Vista.

Before starting work with other agencies, the Veterans Affairs Department should establish standards for data sharing within its own agencies, VHA deputy CIO Gary Christopherson said.

After establishing its own standards, VA will work with the Defense Department to create joint data and communication standards to share veterans' medical records, he said.
Under Consolidated Health Informatics, one of the 24 Quicksilver e-government projects, DOD, VA and the Health and Human Services Department have agreed to adopt the same data and communication standards.

They are expected to decide on the standards within the next few weeks, Christopherson said.

'Once the [data standards] are decided, it brings the entire federal sector under one umbrella,' he said.

Another critical decision facing the agency is how to update its national health data repository, which contains millions of veterans' medical records and will serve as the core of the system.

'The key issue is how much of it [system] should be run locally and how much should it run nationally,' Christopherson said.

Model repositories

VHA is considering two models for the repository, which will be housed at VA's Austin Automation Center in Texas.

In the first model, the repository would contain all VA medical records, run all clinical applications and feed data to the local centers, Christopherson said.

In the second model, local sites would house medical records and run applications, and update data in the national repository.

'But you will always have the national repository,' he said. 'It's a matter of figuring out which is a more reliable solution and technically better.'

VHA expects to decide in the next 12 months which model to implement.

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