The Defense Department has joined the Department of Veterans Affairs on an agreement that increases their ability to share patient medical information and access data from more than 54,000 civilian hospitals, clinics pharmacies and laboratories.
The VA announced Monday that a health information exchange, run jointly by both departments, became operable April 18. It will give military and VA physicians access to electronic health records information for patients seen by both government doctors and private providers who have entered into file-sharing agreements.
The system also provides participating private-sector doctors and health systems an efficient way to request or access a patient's DoD or VA electronic health records, according to a VA release.
The rollout is part of a bigger health records modernization program by the departments, which are adopting an electronic medical records system built by Cerner Government Services that is intended to create a medical record for military personnel that spans their lifetimes, from boot camp or officer accessions to death.
The system, called MHS Genesis in the DoD, is expected to be fully operational within the Defense Department by 2024. The VA, which agreed to purchase the same system in 2018, is not expected to have it fully implemented until 2027.
The VA and DoD already had been sharing some medical information with outside providers through their own agreements. Information available to providers includes laboratory results, medications, health histories, allergies and occupational health information for employees who are also beneficiaries.
The new technology comes at a time when both departments are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 11,000 patients diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, as of Tuesday, in both health systems.
"The recent COVID-19 pandemic underlines the importance for clinicians on the front lines to quickly access a patient's health record, regardless of where that patient previously received care," said Dr. Neil Evans, interim director of the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization program office, in a release.
The system includes a capability that will allow health networks to access it in the future, by agreement with both the VA and DoD. For example, the departments have already signed an arrangement with CommonWell, a community provider network, that is expected to give 15,000 more community providers access to military and veteran patient information in the fall.
Patients who want to opt out of the file-sharing arrangements have several options for doing so, with the exception of active-duty service members, who aren't allowed to opt out.
Veterans may opt out by completing VA Form 10-10164, which they can download and mail. They also can go to a Release of Information Department at the VA facility where they receive care and complete the form.
VA officials announced in early February that they were delaying rollout of their electronic health records system while they ensured that the system would work within the VA's current information technology infrastructure.
Initial deployment at the VA was set to begin in March at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington. But that has been put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.
The DoD also has temporarily suspended the next phase of the MHS Genesis rollout to ensure that military medical providers are focused on pandemic response rather than learning a new medical records system.
With the new health information exchange program, patients and physicians should not see any changes in their files as a result of the new capability, according to the VA.