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VA health data move to be easier than DoD's

By: Tom Philpott
March 10, 2018 Updated: March 10, 2018 at 1:49 pm
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tom philpott, 

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, returned from a recent visit to Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., alarmed that the Department of Veterans Affairs might have made a bad decision in June to replace its electronic health record system, VistA, with the same commercial off-the-shelf system that the military is adopting, starting with Pacific Northwest bases.

"I came back blowing the bugle," said Roe, a physician, who saw staff at Fairchild's hospital frustrated at the MHS Genesis system in ways that recalled for Roe his experience years earlier shifting paper to electronic medical records.

In this case, however, Fairchild physicians were frustrated that only minimal patient data had transferred from the Defense Department's system, AHLTA, into the Cerner Millennium architecture used in MHS Genesis.

If the VA adopted the same system, Roe remembered fearing, physicians would have to spend two to three additional minutes on each patient just looking into VistA data that Roe had expected would be transferred into the new record system.

"If I don't have it all in front of me," Roe said, "you've just added another hour to my day. You ask doctors today what's frustrating them. It's the damn electronic health system. It takes part of the joy out of medicine."

Roe said he feared that a lot of the efficiency savings that the VA expected to realize from modernizing electronic records would be lost by having to maintain the legacy system alongside the new system, perhaps for decades.

That's why Roe sounded retreat, he said. But he has put away his horn.

VA Secretary David Shulkin in December paused contract negotiations and plans to piggyback onto the deployment of MHS Genesis for reasons unrelated to physician frustrations Roe witnessed. In fact, Roe said, Shulkin soon reassured him that VA medical data won't face the same transfer challenges as military patient data stored on AHLTA. Shulkin told him, Roe said, that contracting officials expect to be able to transfer up to five years of VA medical records into the new system for every patient enrolled in VA health care.

Roe remains concerned that the Department of Defense will have to keep AHLTA accessible for years longer than the VA will need to use VistA, even though the VA's patient base is at least twice as large.

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To comment, write Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120 or email milupdate@aol.com.

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