GAO: VA/DOD health data exchange not ready

VA netork for benefits payments faces significant challenges

By Bob Brewin

The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have much more work to do than they originally envisioned to achieve true two way exchange of patient information and have experienced delays in a project to exchange computable health information, the Government Accountability Office reported.

The GAO also reported that the VA continues to experience continuing problems with development of its VETSNET network designed to modernize the Veterans Benefit Administration's Benefits Delivery Network which provides payments to more than 3.5 million patients a month.

The GAO said that the VA/DOD Bidirectional Health Information Exchange is a limited, interim initiative separate from ongoing efforts to share data between their health information systems.

The GAO report added that VA/DOD Clinical Data Repository/Health Data Repository (CHDR) project which enables the exchange of computable and searchable medical information between the two department's e-health systems missed an October, 2005 milestone to start exchanging outpatient pharmacy data, lab results, allergy information and demographic data.

DOD and VA plan to start a CHDR pilot project at the end of this month (June) to exchange computable data, the GAO report said.
Though this pilot will mark the first time computable data has been exchanged between the two health care systems, the GAO report said data repositories maintained by the two departments limit the amount of data which can be exchanged.

The DOD clinical data repository is limited in geographic scope, with 115 out of 138 medical treatment facilities worldwide inputting data into the repository.

While all of the VA's 187 hospitals and more than 800 ambulatory care and community health facilities have an electronic health record system, information from that system cannot be input into the VA health repository and used by CHDR until it is converted into an interoperable format, the GAO said.

The GAO recommended that VA and DOD need to develop a clear project management plan for two way data which has detailed descriptions of technical and managerial processes to meet their goals.

The VETSNET project presents VA with sever challenges, the GAO said and it recommended that VA set realistic goals and deadlines for an effort which has already cost $69 million. GA also recommended that the VA establish and effective requirements process for VETSNET, establish sound program management and develop an integrated project plan.

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