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VA, Kaiser Permanente launch e-health records exchange

Integrated eHealth Records system will be offered to 5.4 million veterans

By Lucas Mearian, Computerworld
January 06, 2010 06:02 PM ET

Computerworld - In a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership, health-care network giant Kaiser Permanente and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs today unveiled a pilot program they've been using to share patient electronic health records over the past several months.

The program connects the VA's VistA (Veterans Affairs Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture) and Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect electronic health records systems. VA beneficiaries and Kaiser Permanente members in the San Diego area were the first to be offered the opportunity to sign up for the pilot. The VA is the nation's largest integrated health care system, serving 5.4 million veterans out of 7 million eligible current and former service members.

The information, which the patient must agree to share, includes any previously diagnosed health problems, medications and allergies.

At a San Diego press conference, Dr. Robert M. Smith, chief of staff of the VA San Diego Healthcare System, compared the importance of the electronic health information program to the first moon landing, saying "much like President Kennedy's charge, we're going to take President Obama's charge [to create a nationwide EHR system] and move forward quickly."

Dr. Stephen L. Ondra, the VA's senior policy adviser for health affairs, said three out of four U.S. veterans and active duty service members receive some portion of their health care outside of the VA or Department of Defense facilities. Interoperability between federal agencies and the private sector is essential to provide the best care for veterans, service members and their dependents, Ondra said.

With the new health data exchange capability, when a veteran visits a clinician, previous medical history data will be available instantly to help guide treatment in any Kaiser location that participates in the program. Before this project, patients frequently consented to sharing this information, but it could take weeks or even months, for doctors to receive the paper documents.

"What we have achieved with this pilot is that process of taking weeks to get stale paper records now occurs in seconds," he said. "So the net effect is clearly an improvement in quality, an increase in patient safety and a tremendous improvement in efficiency in how we share information and deliver the best possible care. This is the first of many steps to come."

Ondra said that if any physician was asked to choose three things he could know about a patient from an outside institution, he would pick health problems, medications and allergies. "That's why these things were selected for the first three," Ondra said.

Although the data exchange is Web-based, the pilot program has less to do with proprietary technology and more to do with using a set of standardized protocols for displaying patient information on a common network that allows two computer systems to view data no matter the underlying software or computer systems.

The organizations are using the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) to exchange data. The network was developed over several years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator (ONC). In June, the VA and the DOD agreed on a single NHIM standard.

Originally published on www.computerworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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