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New Integrated Health Record System Will Help Veterans

Location: Washington, DC


Providing seamless care for veterans after they leave active duty in the military has long been a goal of U.S. Senator Larry Craig, the immediate past chairman and now the top Republican on the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

"Today the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense made a major step forward by announcing they have agreed to make joint inpatient electronic health records a reality. This is long overdue, but a very good sign for America's veterans," Craig said.

But getting there will not be easy. At hearing on Tuesday, one senator on the Committee noted that it may be 2012 before such a system is fully operational.

"It's my hope that we will get there much sooner than that," Craig said. "What I think is significant is that the work is underway. That's what our committee and this Congress has insisted upon."

VA and DOD currently use different computer systems, and a big part of the challenge in bringing the new system online will be deciding what to include.

"Do we mean a summary of a patient's diagnoses? That's fairly straightforward. Do we mean the clinical notes, that the clinician may have recorded, which of course historically were written down, which will have be transcribed? Do we mean the actual x-ray images? That's a much more significant data requirement," said Dr. David Chu, Under Secretary of Defense, during the committee hearing. "It will take time. I don't want to be naive about what's required."

In a press release issued Wednesday, VA officials said the joint system will eventually make inpatient medical records instantly accessible to clinicians within both VA and DOD. According to VA, the biggest advantage is that VA medical staff will have immediate access to patients' military health records, allowing doctors and others to make faster and better treatment decisions.

"Our two departments understand that we are responsible for the same people, only at different times in their lives. Our greatest challenge, and our greatest opportunity, is to build systems that meet the needs of veterans and DoD beneficiaries for today and tomorrow. We will continue to persevere toward that goal," VA Deputy Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield said at Tuesday's hearing.

Two years ago Sen. Craig and VA Secretary Jim Nicholson traveled to Iraq and Germany to witness firsthand the transition for those wounded on the field of battle a smooth one.

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