The Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) operate two of the nation’s largest health care systems, providing care to more than 9.6 million active-duty servicemembers and 6.3 million veterans. For many years, DOD and VA have known that better sharing of health care data could help them:
- make patient information more available to health care providers;
- reduce medical errors; and
- streamline administrative functions to save time and money.
Electronic health records are an essential part of delivering quality care to veterans and servicemembers—especially the 5 million shared patients who receive health care and services from both DOD and VA.
DOD and VA’s Electronic Health Record Efforts
More than 97 percent of DOD and VA’s requirements for supporting inpatient care are the same, but because their health information is stored in different systems, data sharing has been challenging. Both departments were planning to replace their separate systems with new systems that were more interoperable. In February 2011, we identified DOD and VA’s separate efforts to modernize electronic health records as a case of unnecessary duplication and we recommended actions they could take to address it.
In March 2011, the Secretaries of both departments committed to replacing their separate systems with a joint system, the integrated electronic health record (iEHR). This would have allowed the departments to avoid the interoperability and data sharing challenges they previously had.
After spending almost 2 years on the project, DOD and VA determined that the system was too expensive and would take too long to develop. The departments’ ineffective implementation of the Interagency Program Office (which was intended to facilitate collaboration on iEHR) may have also contributed to the project’s derailment.
DOD and VA reverted to replacing the two existing systems with two new ones. In February of this year, we assessed the iEHR project and in July we made additional recommendations to improve collaboration between DOD and VA as they replace their electronic health record systems. Ensuring interoperability of the new systems is important to optimize the quality of health care the departments provide to servicemembers and veterans.