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VA Preparing for April Launch of Health Information Exchange

A doctor from the Department of Veterans Affairs explained why veterans should feel safe and secure with their health information under their new system, the Veterans Health Information Exchange (VHIE).

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) health information exchange, aptly named the Veterans Health Information Exchange (VHIE), is set to deploy on April 17, 2020. Veterans will automatically enroll patients, making it easier for users to share their health information.

Jennifer MacDonald, MD, acting chief consultant to the Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health at the VA, used a blog post to offer her thoughts on why the opt-in feature and the VHIE will be beneficial to veterans.

“This comes as a result of the launch of the VA MISSION Act this past June, when VA expanded Veterans’ access to non-VA health care providers through the community care program,” MacDonald wrote. “But as VA’s network of authorized community providers grows, so does the need to make sure those providers have access to the health information they need to deliver decisions about your care.”

The VHIE aims to improve patient safety and allows for interoperability for veterans receiving care at community providers.

It also gives providers access to laboratory results, medications, health history, medications, immunizations, allergies, illnesses, and occupational health information for veterans. Overall, it will improve quality care for veterans.

MacDonald, who is a family medicine physician and an Army veteran, said this change will have immediate benefits.

“Not only does this electronic sharing help you avoid carrying paper copies of your record between providers, but the secure, seamless exchange of information with the specific providers treating you can dramatically improve your safety – especially in emergency situations,” she explained.

While the VA has been utilizing an HIE since 2009, the VA MISSION Act is geared towards removing restrictions on data sharing, all in an effort to ensure full access to clinicians and overall better care. The agency’s goal is to:

  • Have a better understanding of the patient’s health history with fewer restrictions
  • Develop safe, more effective treatment plans
  • Work together to keep the patient safe and improve his overall health.

MacDonald noted that because all veterans are automatically enrolled in to VHIE, some may have privacy concerns. However, all patient data will be safe and secure within the HIE.

“Like all VA IT systems, VHIE complies with all federal privacy laws including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA),” she wrote. “Community health care providers must be a part of VA’s approved, trusted network to receive your health information.”

Although the patient could opt-out, she explained that it could put the patient at risk.

“If you do not want your care team to receive information via VHIE, you may opt out – but doing so means your community providers may not receive your medical record before you receive treatment,” MacDonald continued.

Once VHIE launches on April 17, there is no deadline for a veteran to opt-out of sharing his health information. However, if a patient opts out, the veteran can always opt-in at any time.

Sharing options can be found online at via My HealtheVet.

“I hope all Veterans take advantage of this opportunity to make sure your health care providers have a secure and more complete view of your medical history – helping us provide you with timely, high quality care when and where you need it,” concluded MacDonald.

Richard Stone, MD, and executive of Veterans Health Administration, also wrote in a previous blog post why he felt it was important for veterans to share their health information.

“Health care is personal, and trust comes from feeling that your providers know you and your health issues,” he said. “When I see patients, I want to spend as much time as possible addressing whatever brought them into the exam room, not having them repeat their medical history over and over again.”

“Making sure every member of their care team has the right information is key to delivering safe, high-quality care in a coordinated way,” he continued. “Today, that often means sharing health information electronically between providers or facilities.”

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