The government's system of maintaining electronic health records for millions of veterans has been honored for innovation by Harvard University.
The Veterans Affairs Department, which in recent weeks has been riddled with security problems, was one of seven recipients of the annual Innovations in American Government Award.
The VA maintains computerized patient records for more than 5 million veterans who use its healthcare system. That permits healthcare providers at each of the VA's 1,400 clinics to save time and money by getting full information without the need to run duplicative medical tests, organizers said.
For example, after Hurricane Katrina struck last fall, healthcare providers at VA facilities outside New Orleans were able to access prescription and other medical information for 40,000 veterans who had fled the Gulf Coast without their paper records.
''This program's decentralized, flexible approach has made our veterans the recipients of the highest quality, lowest cost medical care in the country,'' said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the award at Harvard's Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation.
The VA will receive a $100,000 grant to help other governments and the private sector adopt its approach to medical record-keeping.
The department recently pledged to improve the security of veterans' sensitive personal information after names, birth dates and Social Security numbers for up to 26.5 million veterans and active-duty troops were stolen in May from a VA data analyst's suburban Maryland home.
The laptop containing that information has since been recovered, and VA officials said the theft did not involve veterans' medical records.
Under questioning last month from Congress, the VA also disclosed at least two other instances in which sensitive data on veterans was stolen in Minneapolis and Indianapolis.
''This award tells the American people what millions of veterans and their families have known for years -- that VA provides world-class healthcare in a professional, compassionate and high-tech environment,'' VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said.
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