VA expands health information exchange to 15,000 more facilities

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The information exchange created as part of the modernization program for the health records of military personnel and veterans added 15,000 more hospitals and clinics to its system in October.

The additions reported by the Joint Health Information Exchange deepen the government’s links to private health care providers, a process that is a major part of the modernization push for government electronic health records (EHRs).

The Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense and the Coast Guard, which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security, are the primary participants of the exchange’s expanded private sector connections. The exchange is one of the systems that will eventually be a part of the cloud-based platform being built for the VA and DOD by Cerner for a common EHR across government.

The overarching goal is to have a platform that follows people while they serve and after they leave. The new hospitals and clinics now linked into the Joint HEI are members of the CommonWell Health Alliance, a system of health care centers, IT providers and government agencies that share data. All 15,000 alliance members can now share data on the exchange, according to a news release.

The 15,000 new medical centers join 46,000 partners added in April, including pharmacies and other health care facilities. The new members were an expected addition.

It is unclear how many more members the VA and DOD want to add to the exchange. Military and VA health systems already had health exchanges to share information, but the joint exchange opened up a “single point of entry” for private providers to use and share health data. By default the VA’s network of more than 1,250 health care facilities are part of the exchange.

When the exchange first opened to private health care providers, the program’s interim director, Neil Evans, said “the recent COVID-19 pandemic underlines the importance for clinicians on the front lines to quickly access a patient’s health record.”

“As the DOD and VA implement a single, common record, the joint health information exchange and the associated expansion of community exchange partners is a critical step forward, delivering immediate value to all DOD and VA sites,” Evans added.

The efforts includes migrating millions of records into a Cerner-built cloud system over the next several years. The VA’s EHR office director, John Windom, reiterated the VA’s  commitment to work with Cerner and see the multibillion-dollar project through during the company’s annual conference Wednesday.

A new strategy

The news of expanded links to the private sector comes after the DOD and VA released a joint strategy on health record interoperability. The document was a congressionally mandated guiding strategy that comes years after the program started and adds little detail on the continued technical operations for both departments’ efforts to modernize their systems.

The strategy states the departments will work to bring “best in class IT” to both the VA’s health care system and the DOD’s Military Health System (MHS). Little is spelled out beyond blanket commitments to modernizing the technology backbone of the program, which has lagged years behind private health IT systems, officials have said.

The VA expects to have its first go-live in Spokane, Washington, for the new EHR system, which includes brand new medical interfaces and systems that health care providers will use. The go-live had been delayed initially over a lack of training and testing, and then again when the Coronavirus Pandemic began ravaging the U.S.

-In this Story-

Cerner, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), electronic health records (EHRs), interoperability, Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization
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