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VA Will Try Again To Make Its Health Records Compatible With Pentagon's

Sep 21, 2018
Originally published on September 22, 2018 1:40 am
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The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to coordinate its electronic health records with health records at the Pentagon. This makes sense since a service member moves from one organization to the other. But, apparently, it's hard to do. A billion-dollar effort to do it failed. And now a $10 billion effort is underway. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports it is not clear the result will be any different.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The VA used to be considered a pioneer with its electronic health record in the 1990s. But that software has never been able to interface with the Pentagon's health care software. So troops had to sometimes print out and mail or hand carry their military medical record over to the VA. Congress made it law in 2011 that those two systems should be able to communicate. Republican Phil Roe summed it up at a recent hearing.

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PHIL ROE: We spent a billion dollars of taxpayers' money. And I think that's - was astonishing to me that we could get rid of a billion dollars and accomplish not anything.

LAWRENCE: This year, the Trump administration decided the VA should simply buy the same software that the Pentagon uses, made by a company called Cerner. The new contract is for $10 billion over 10 years to get all the VA's 9 million patients into that system, plus be compatible with the Pentagon's very different health care system, plus be compatible with the private sector clinics that the VA uses heavily. VA's acting chief health information officer, John Windom, said hiring the same company is just the start.

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JOHN WINDOM: We've acquired the same commercial electronic health record. And now we're understanding the gaps. And so those gaps have to be reconciled.

LAWRENCE: So far, that's not going smoothly. The VA's chief information officer quit in April. Two other key officials quit this summer after only months on the job. One main concern is that the Pentagon and the VA are both in charge. And...

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CAROL HARRIS: When everyone is responsible, no one's responsible. And so I think that's what has led us to where we are today.

LAWRENCE: That's Carol Harris of the Government Accountability Office at the same hearing. She said what happened last time was disagreements and turf wars between the two largest departments in the U.S. government had no clear referee. And time and money simply wasted away. And she says that hasn't changed, which she fears is setting up this new effort for failure. Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.