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VA CIO Says New Digital Platform is On the Way

April 19, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) CIO LaVerne Council said in a Congressional hearing that VA will launch a new digital health platform later this year, according to a FedScoop report.

Council gave testimony in a hearing before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs' Subcommittee on Health in which she said that now is the time to plan and build a veteran-centric digital health platform for the next 25 years and onward. “We decided what the right thing to do was to lay out the new digital health platform, because that’s really what’s needed for the future. If [the Veterans Health Administration] is going to provide healthcare in the future and today, it needs to move into a digital platform, and that’s what we laid out," she said, per FedScoop.

Currently, the VA and Department of Defense (DoD) have different systems for their patient population of approximately 35 million. Initial plans to combine the two systems were nixed in 2013 when it was decided that VA should stick with its homegrown electronic health record (EHR) VistA platform and DoD should go its own way with a commercial system. Indeed, in late July 2015, it was announced that a team led by Cerner Corp. and Leidos won the bid to modernize the massive Department of Defense Healthcare Management Systems Modernization EHR contract. DoD recently announced that the MHS Genesis project will launch at the end of this year.

In the hearing on April 14, Council testified, per FedScoop’s report, that the system which is in the works “is aligned with the world-class technology everyone’s seen today and using in things like Facebook and Google and other capabilities. But it also is agile and it leverages what is called a FHIR [Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources] capability … which means we can bring things in, we can use them, we can change them, we can respond.”

In 2014, the National Defense Authorization Act mandated that DOD and VA verify that their systems are interoperable. However, In August, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the departments did not establish that all healthcare data in their systems complied with national standards and were computable in real time by the Oct. 1, 2014 deadline that they were given. At the hearing, Council said that “driving interoperability with DoD” is one of the health IT projects that VA is working on.

A new digital platform is necessary to supplement its VistA system, Council said. “The EHR [electronic health record] today is really just the heartbeat of the organism, and it does not have everything that is needed to mandate and manage care in the community, to deal with the needs of the female veteran, and also to support the overall veteran experience and the clinical management," Council said at the hearing Thursday, according to the report.

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