By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 10, 2009
President Obama said yesterday that his administration will create an electronic record for veterans that will "contain their administrative and medical information from the day they first enlist to the day that they are laid to rest."
Research has shown that the handoff of medical information -- between individuals and hospital systems -- can be dangerous. Incomplete, incomprehensible or misunderstood data can contribute to medical error or substandard care.
While the Defense Department's hospitals and the Veterans Affairs medical system have electronic records, they are not seamlessly connected -- a problem Obama said he is determined to solve.
"Currently, there is no comprehensive system in place that allows for a streamlined transition of health records between DOD and the VA," the president said during a briefing at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building that was attended by the secretaries of those two departments as well as patients and practitioners from Washington area hospitals and military and VA facilities.
"I can't tell you how many stories that I heard during the course of the last several years . . . about veterans who were finding it almost impossible to get the benefits that they had earned despite the fact that their disabilities or their needs were evident for all to see," he said.
Obama has made electronic record-keeping a key feature of his health-care reform effort. There is evidence that electronic medical records reduce errors and waste.
A problem, however, is how the military and VA hospital systems, which use different software, will be able to communicate with each other. While the White House gave no details about how that will be accomplished, integration is the goal.
"I'm asking both departments to work together to define and build a seamless system . . . with a simple goal: When a member of the armed forces separates from the military, he or she will no longer have to walk paperwork from a DOD duty station to a local VA health center. Their electronic records will transition with them," Obama said.
The VA has a highly regarded system that allows a practitioner in any veterans hospital to retrieve data, look at X-rays and even review diagnostic videos. VA hospitals are officially "paperless." Military hospitals, however, use paper and electronic records.
"This new approach incorporates a transition strategy by maintaining a seamless access to all clinically relevant data from both systems, while concurrently building 'common services' between the two," said Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
In his remarks, Obama noted the toll of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder on veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said his 2010 budget contained the largest single-year increase in VA funding in 30 years, with substantial increases for mental health screening and treatment.