May 16 2016

The VA’s Interoperability Mission

LaVerne Council, CIO of the Department of Veterans Affairs, goes inside the agency’s efforts to make its services work better together.

In the 21st century, when we can access our home thermostat from a cell phone, and a video feed of our living room from a computer, we can no longer be dependent on paper health records. The ability to access what you need, when you need it, where you need it, is paramount in this technology-driven age, and nowhere is that more apparent than in healthcare IT.

When clinicians can easily access veterans' full health history on one screen — a complete view of their medical records from both their time in the service and after — that is the epitome of patient-centric healthcare. That data, that complete history in a single electronic health record, is necessary to make critical medical choices. That is why health data interoperability is essential.

On April 8, I had the privilege of signing letters with the Department of Defense (DoD), certifying to the House and Senate that the departments have met the interoperability requirements as required by the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — through implementation of the Joint Legacy Viewer (JLV).

More than 100,000 VA users are using the JLV at 1,700 VA facilities across the country to access patient data from DoD, VA, and community health partners. That number grows by thousands each week, already outpacing the platform’s projected growth for 2016. With JLV users at every VA Medical Center and every Veterans Benefits Administration Regional Office, more than one million patient records have been viewed by VA staff in JLV.

Using Technology to Deliver Better Care

Now, when a veteran goes to see her VA clinician about a nagging health issue, that clinician can use the JLV to digitally examine her entire medical history. The clinician can review test results, treatment history, and any potential red flags from throughout her years of military service.

This is an important step, but it is just the first. Now we are shifting resources toward building on this foundation.

IT plays a critical role in enabling care for our nation’s veterans. At VA’s Office of Information and Technology, that means we will continue working to enhance interoperability, modernize VA’s electronic health record, and deliver tools for clinicians to provide more comprehensive, patient-centered care. And JLV is just the beginning. Meeting this mandate does not mean we are taking a break; we are more committed than ever to pushing forward and pioneering new capabilities.

Over the next two years, we will roll out the enterprise Health Management Platform (eHMP), a platform that builds on the foundation of JLV. A major cornerstone of our modernization efforts, eHMP further enhances the capability for clinically actionable, patient-centric data. In addition to providing a platform to view health data, it will allow clinicians to compute data within the platform and offer capabilities for writing notes and for ordering laboratory and radiology tests.

But there are no “one-and-done” solutions in the world of technology, and there are certainly no shortcuts to be taken when the mission is to provide a truly veteran-centric healthcare experience. As technology evolves, we will continuously modernize our platform with enhanced, flexible components.

The need for more agility in health care has never been greater. There are more veterans receiving care in the community, there is a growing number of returning women veterans, and there is an increased demand for specialty care services. To prepare for this new era in connected health, VA is looking beyond just enhancing electronic health records to developing a comprehensive digital health platform that can better support veterans across the health continuum.

The JLV moves us closer to that goal, and eHMP will move us closer still. Those tools, on computer and tablet screens in facilities across the country, will help VA provide more predictive and holistic care.

We have met our initial benchmark and exceeded initial goals for interoperability, and this could not have been achieved without the hardwork of our dedicated team members – 56 percent of whom are veterans themselves. Even as we celebrate this achievement, we are looking to the future. This month marks a big step, and I am thrilled for all the steps still to come.

Department of Veterans Affairs/Flickr

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