The one-way exchange of electronic healthcare data from the Department of Defense to the Department of Veterans Affairs is well under way, but a longer-term plan for two-way sharing lacks standardization, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office.
VA clinicians have better access to defense department health data, such as laboratory, pharmacy and radiology records, on almost 2 million patients as a result of the successful DOD-to-VA exchange, says Linda Koontz, GAO director of information management services, in her testimony to the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Data on patients in the Defense Department's Military Health System Composite Health Care System are being transmitted monthly to a VA repository, which VA providers access through the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture.
However, the two-way project, called HealthePeople, scheduled to provide limited capability for electronic exchange by the end of 2005, faces challenges, Koontz concludes.
"Although a high-level strategy exists, the departments have not yet clearly articulated a common health information infrastructure and architecture," Koontz writes. "In addition, critical to achieving the two-way exchange will be completing the standardization of the clinical data that these departments plan to share. Without standardization, the task of sharing meaningful data is made more complex, and may not prove successful."
The HealthePeople initiative may not deliver expected benefits within established time frames unless these issues are addressed, she says.
The VA and DOD collectively provided healthcare services to approximately 13 million veterans, military personnel and dependents at a cost of about $47 billion in fiscal year 2002. The two agencies have been working to integrate their electronic health information systems since 1998.