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VA Officials Exploring Health IT, HIE Solutions to Improve Interoperability

At a recent House hearing, Sachin Yende, VA chief medical officer, said the agency is looking to improve veteran care coordination through enhanced health IT interoperability.

Officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are looking to health IT to enhance interoperability with non-VA providers, according to reporting from MeriTalk.

At a House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health hearing on June 13th, legislators and VA officials noted that the agency often must request paper copies of patient health records due to a lack of interoperability with non-VA providers.

"We're still years away from having an integrated electronic health record at VA and DoD [Department of Defense]," said Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-PA). "Meanwhile, VA's legacy system makes it such that veterans traveling to or relocating from one VA facility to another fully register at their new facility before providers at that facility can access their VA electronic medical record."

"VA's ability to electronically access and receive medical records from non-VA community providers is still very limited," he continued. "This means that VA staff often have to request paper copies of medical records from non-VA providers, leading to delays and gaps in information from fee-for-service or community care encounters."

Sachin Yende, MD, MS, chief medical officer at the VA, acknowledged that "the fax system is very challenging to work with."

Yende said the agency seeks to address this issue through three approaches: participation in health information exchange (HIE), setting up processes with third-party administrator (TPA) partners to send records, and implementing new technology.

"Really, technology is the solution out here trying to work through faxes, trying to make sure those faxes get into our medical records – it's a very laborious process," said Yende. "So, we're really exploring some technology solutions out here, and we hope to brief you in the near future."

Julie Kroviak, MD, principal deputy assistant inspector general at the VA, emphasized that veterans' care is at risk because some non-VA providers are not sharing records at all or in a timely fashion.

"It is absolutely impacting care for veterans," said Kroviak. "I do believe technology is the solution, but I don't believe we're anywhere near making that solution a reality."

In Kroviak's written testimony, she explained that while VA and DoD have made significant improvements in the interoperability of EHR systems, "significant risks remain when VA providers find DoD records are not complete or accessible or when VA providers have not thoroughly reviewed and evaluated those records during former service member's earliest encounters in VA."

Kroviak emphasized that the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) is committed to continued oversight of these issues to ensure veterans receive high-quality healthcare services.

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