Wednesday, February 06, 2013

From Parallel Universes? Dueling Accounts of VA/DoD EHR Integration

At a March 2010 post "VA / DoD EHR Interface Debacle: Will It Take the Luminosity Of A Dozen Supernovas To Shed Light On The Obvious About Healthcare IT?" I wrote about problems with ongoing efforts to integrate the Veteran Administration's EHR and the Dept. of Defense (active military) EHR.

Now there appears to be two dueling accounts of the task's progress:

Account One:

DOD, VA to Speed Integration of Health Records
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2013 – The secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs announced their departments will speed implementation of the Integrated Electronic Health Record program, allowing service members and veterans better access and more importantly, better medical care.

This approach is affordable, achievable, and if we refocus our efforts we believe we can achieve the key goal of a seamless system for health records between VA and DOD on a greatly accelerated schedule,” said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta following a meeting with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki at VA headquarters here.

The departments are able to step up the records program because of advances in information technology while working with existing platforms. The original goal was to have the system deployed by 2018. Now the expectation is by the end of next year.

The goal is to provide one set of electronic records from entry into the military through veteran status. The program is designed to allow service members or veterans to download information and present it to doctors or other health care providers without delays.

Previously, service members had to hand carry paper files from DOD facilities to Veterans Affairs. Once complete, the record program will provide DOD and VA clinicians with the complete medical records of more than 18 million service members, veterans and their beneficiaries.

“We’ve agreed to improve interoperability before the end of this year by standardizing health care data,” Shinseki said. The two departments will also accelerate the exchange of real-time data by September. The departments are upgrading the graphical user interface to display the new standardized VA and DOD healthcare data by the end of this year, Shinseki said.

... “By this summer, DOD and VA will field and begin conducting a pilot program on the common interface for doctors at seven joint rehab centers across the country and we’ll also expand its use at two other sites,” Panetta said. “All of these facilities will be interoperable by the end of July 2013, so fast time track, but we think we can get it done.”
“Rather than building a single, integrated system from scratch, we will focus our immediate efforts on integrating VA and DOD health data as quickly as possible by upgrading our existing systems,” Panetta said.

Account Two:

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 6, 2013 CONTACT: Curt Cashour (202) 225-3527

Senate and House Veterans’ Committee Leaders Fault VA and DoD on Integrated Health Record System

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs today faulted the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs for backing off plans to create a single computer system to integrate electronic medical records for troops and veterans.

Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said: “I am deeply disappointed by the VA and Defense Department decision to back away from a commitment to develop and implement a truly integrated, single, electronic health record. President Obama charged the departments with creating a seamless system of integration so that service members transitioning from active duty to civilian life don’t have to worry about whether their health records will be lost or their claims delayed. An integrated record would allow for a streamlined and timely claims process, faster decisions on benefits, less duplication in medical testing and more efficient, cost-effective treatment for both physical and mental health needs. Now more than ever we need greater cooperation between the departments to solve the serious challenges that continue to confront our service members and veterans. I will continue to work to achieve better coordination by the departments and to ensure that the needs of veterans are met.”

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said: “The decision by DOD and VA to turn their backs on a truly integrated electronic health record system is deeply troubling. The need for a record system integrated across all DOD and VA components has been universally accepted for years, and until yesterday, both agencies have given us nothing but assurances they were working toward that goal.

Previous attempts by DOD and VA to use disparate computer systems to produce universal electronic health records have failed, and unfortunately it appears they are repeating past mistakes.  [This seems the "focal point" of the apparent discrepancy, one system vs. two that are interfaced - ed.]  When DOD and VA take shortcuts, the veterans and service members under their care will be shortchanged.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C), the ranking member of the Senate committee, said: “The fact that VA and DoD would reverse course on a plan they have been working towards for years that would create a coordinated electronic health record system between the two agencies is concerning and disappointing. I am concerned about what this means for our nation’s service members and veterans, particularly those who will be transitioning from active duty service to civilian life in the near future. We owe it to our nation’s defenders to do all we can to care for them and provide the most effective, efficient service we can, and coordination and communication between these two agencies is absolutely vital.”

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), ranking member of the House committee, said: “This is a huge setback and completely unacceptable. For years we have been told by both agencies that progress was made and that things were on track. I’m disappointed that our nation’s two largest government agencies – one of which is the world’s foremost developer of high-tech machines and cyber-systems – could not come together on something that would have been so beneficial to those that served. We have just witnessed hundreds of millions of dollars go down the drain.”

Additional Contacts:
Michael Briggs (Sanders) 202 224-5141
David Ward (Burr) 202 228-2971
Ed Gilman (Michaud) 202 225-6306

So, some are touting a marvelous effort ready for prime time in 2014, and others are speaking of hundreds of millions of dollars down the drain with nothing to show for it.

As Captain Kirk said to Mr. Spock in the award-winning Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" about conflicting accounts of the early 1930's death of Edith Keeler, played by a pre-Dynasty Joan Collins, vs. Keeler's mid-to-late-1930's rise to national fame and her becoming the cause of World War Two being lost ... "They both can't be true." 

(Using the clock-mender's tools, Spock gets an image on his tricorder screen of a newspaper report. Edith Keeler, social worker from 21st Street Mission was killed today, it says. Kirk enters.)
KIRK: How are the stone knives and bearskins?
SPOCK: I may have found our focal point in time.
KIRK: You may also find you have a connection burning someplace.
SPOCK: Yes. I'm overloading those lines. I believe we'll have our answer on this screen.
KIRK: Good.
SPOCK: And, Captain, you may find this a bit distressing.
KIRK: Let's see what you have.
SPOCK: I've slowed down the recording we made from the time vortex.
KIRK: February 23rd, 1936. Six years from now. (reading below the headline FDR confers with slum area 'angel') The President and Edith Keeler conferred for some time today
(Then the whole thing goes up in flames.)
KIRK: How bad?
SPOCK: Bad enough.
KIRK: The President and Edith Keeler.
SPOCK: It would seem unlikely, Jim. A few moments ago, I read a 1930 newspaper article.
KIRK: We know her future. Within six years from now, she'll become very important. Nationally famous.
SPOCK: Or Captain, Edith Keeler will die - this year. I saw her obituary. Some sort of traffic accident.
KIRK: You must be mistaken. They both can't be true. 

Based on the points I raised in the aforementioned March 2010 post about current IT leadership and organizational structures (not to mention Beltway Bandit IT consultants), I am skeptical that either plan - monolithic vs. interfaced - has a snowball's chance of success.

Edith Keeler dies in either scenario. 

Let's just hope a war is not lost because of this cybernetic "how to do health IT poorly" feud.

-- SS

Feb. 7, 2013  Addendum:

I've received a comment that this post is a bit "geeky" but droll.

My response is a word often used by another highly popular SF character:  Indeed.

-- SS

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Cabinet leaders are delusional. They must be listening to the vendors and ddulites.

The Congressmen somehow got educated by a more realistic school of HIT reality.