Hope Ahead for VA/DOD Interoperability | Citizens Against Government Waste

Hope Ahead for VA/DOD Interoperability

The WasteWatcher

In 1982, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) were charged by Congress to share patient information for servicemembers transitioning from DOD into the VA health care system.  This transition process has been anything but seamless, with medical records being attached to gurneys each time a patient was moved, and hundreds of millions of dollars being wasted trying to develop an interoperable medical records system between the two departments. 

What has made this transition more challenging was the practice among the different VA medical centers to customize the open source code underpinning the VA’s VistA electronic health records (EHR) system, creating multiple layers of added programming for various purposes without any centralized planning.

With a long history of struggle to find a solution to VA/DOD EHR interoperability, the VA decided in June 2017 to phase out the VistA EHR and adopt DOD’s new EHR system, known as MHS GENESIS.  The goal was to house all patient data in one common system and enable seamless care between VA and DOD without the manual and electronic exchange and reconciliation of data required by two separate systems.  This announcement was a welcome change in strategy to provide an interoperable solution to veterans’ health care records management. 

As noted by CAGW President Tom Schatz, “This step to modernize health information technology at the VA will improve the interoperability of health records with DOD, which has been a problem for many years and drawn criticism from CAGW and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  By adopting the DOD’s platform, veteran care will be delivered more efficiently and require fewer taxpayer dollars to operate.  The new plan will surely need to be monitored closely, but the announcement is a welcome sign that the VA is putting veterans and taxpayers first.”

The MHS GENESIS system experienced some issues with its initial roll-out in February 2018, but DOD plans to use lessons learned to improve further deployment to new MHS GENESIS locations. 

On July 29, 2019, the VA and DOD moved one step closer to an interoperable health care records management system with VA transferring 23.5 million veteran patient records to the  shared Cerner Data Center, a critical milestone that will enable the transition of these records to the new EHR system.  VA’s VistA EHR will be phased-out over a 10-year period, after which all new data will be processed in the Cerner Millennium system.  The contract to upgrade and transition the medical records system is expected to cost $10 billion.

Perhaps this time, VA and DOD will succeed in developing a fully functional and interoperable EHR system that will enable a smooth transition between the two agencies for our nation’s servicemembers and veterans.