On Wednesday June 22, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs (VA) held a hearing on “Examining the Progress and Challenges in Modernizing Information Technology at the Department of Veterans Affairs.” The purpose of the hearing was to examine the progress the VA has made in modernizing the department’s information technology systems, including VistA and the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), and achieving interoperability with DoD and community health systems.
Dr. David Shulkin, Under Secretary of Health for the VA, noted the progress the VA has made, including the addition of 7.4 million clinical hours, an 88% reduction in urgent consults and the various IT modernization initiatives that the VA is currently pursuing. Despite the progress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has designated the VA as a high-risk agency. Valerie Melvin, Director of Information Technology at the GAO, discussed the weaknesses in the management of IT and the lack of a sound plan for various projects including VBMS implementation, modernizing the current patient scheduling system and advancing interoperability between the VA and DoD.
One of the key issues raised was the possibility of the VA moving away from its 40-year old VistA EHR system, and instead opting for a commercial off-the-shelf product. Senator Patty Murphy (D-WA) noted the millions of dollars invested in VistA modernization and asked for further details. Dr. Shulkin responded that the money invested into VistA modernization to date will help with a transition plan to bring the VA “into a future state where all of healthcare is going to be” with a heavy emphasis on interoperability.
Interoperability between the VA and the DoD was also a recurring theme throughout the hearing. The discussion covered defining interoperability and the parties responsible, addressing the lack of a common language for information exchange in healthcare and current interoperability initiatives like the Joint Legacy Viewer and the Enterprise Health Management Platform (eHMP).