The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs will begin working toward a common inpatient electronic health record, according to a surprise announcement by Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder during today's meeting of the American Health Information Community, an HHS advisory group.
Few details were given, but Nicholson said the program has the potential to "reshape healthcare for America" and swing open the doors of other healthcare systems to implement health information technology while serving as a model for other healthcare systems and resulting in significant savings for taxpayers.
The first step will be an examination of both departments' clinical and business practices to find common areas that can serve as the foundation for the new system, Nicholson said.
Winkenwerder said that the timing was right as both departments were looking at upgrading their systems; he also noted the potential for creating seamless care for seriously wounded active-duty military personnel.
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt noted the significance of having the two systems committed to migrate toward the standards being advocated by AHIC.
Winkenwerder quoted Yogi Berra and said "When you come to a fork in the road, take it," and described the joint project as a marriage that is taking place after years of holding hands and dating.
In 1988, developer SAIC was awarded an eight-year, $1 billion contract to modify the Veterans Administration's clinical IT system, then called the Decentralized Health Care Program, to meet the needs of the Defense Department. Defense's Composite Health Care System resulted and forked so significantly from its parent program that easy transmission of healthcare data between the two departments was no longer possible.