VA, Military to Beat Health-System Deadline by Changing Their Goal

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

A combat-disabled veteran of the Vietnam War demonstrates his newly fitted Otto Bock Healthcare X2 prosthetic limb with a physical therapist at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pledged last year to “meet or beat” a 2017 deadline to integrate two health-records systems, one for troops and the other for veterans.

Now, Panetta and Eric Shinseki, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, are scrapping plans to build a single system because of concerns about how much it would cost and how long it would take to develop.

“Our worry is, how long is it going to take to get to that goal?” Panetta said at a media briefing yesterday in Washington. “And what is going to be the price tag to get to that goal? And how many times is it going to be delayed?”

The two officials announced yesterday they would combine health data from the two agencies by 2014. That will better enable the departments to track patient records through “existing solutions,” Panetta said.

“Rather than building a single integrated system from scratch, we will focus our immediate efforts on integrating VA and DOD health data as quickly as possible, by focusing on interoperability and using existing solutions,” Panetta said.

The move away from an entirely new system is disappointing, Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, said in a press release. “What they are now proposing is not the fully integrated, end-to-end IT solution that this problem demands,” she said.

President Barack Obama in 2009 ordered the two agencies to figure out how to share electronic health records. The VA has struggled to treat veterans without a complete record of their service injuries.

Panetta and Shinseki previously had promised to deliver the new system by 2017. Their new approach would allow them to comply by 2014, they said.

The two agencies “have been at this for years and have sunk over $1 billion into making this the cornerstone of a nationwide electronic medical records initiative,” Murray said. “I intend to follow up with both secretaries to find out why this decision was made.”

The decision to cancel plans for a new system may benefit vendors with contracts to serve the two departments’ existing medical-records programs, said Brian Friel, an analyst with Bloomberg Government. Those companies include Hewlett-Packard Co., SAIC Inc., Harris Corp. and Dell Inc.

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