RealTime IT News

Veterans' Health Care Gets Data-Sharing Revamp

Government and Health IT
The federal government continues working to tap IT to help simplify pressing issues in health care, seeking in a new initiative to overcome some of the hurdles facing U.S. military veterans.

The effort, led by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs, created what the departments call a Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record -- a means by which veterans' records can be more easily communicated among care providers.

Simplifying health care recordkeeping and information sharing has emerged as one of the largest concerns facing policymakers and the medical industry, which is reeling from the high costs and potential for errors that result from the current system of paper-based records. It's especially problematic as the nation seeks to better address the needs of ex-servicemen and -servicewomen.

"The creation of this Joint Virtual Lifetime Record by the two organizations would take the next leap to delivering seamless, high-quality care, and serve as a model for the nation," the White House said in a statement.

The White House said that electronic records can aid the delivery of high-quality care and reduce medical errors. In its latest budget request, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) highlights the seriousness of the problem of medical errors, noting, "In November 1999, the Institute of Medicine released a report estimating that as many as 98,000 patients die from medical errors in hospitals alone."

The announcement makes it easier to ensure that veterans' health records are accurate. "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 along with them and remain with them forever."

Health IT efforts growing

The news comes amid widening consideration within the government of how to take better advantage of IT and Internet infrastructure to cut costs. That's resulted in some improvements already, as the FBI demonstrated with its Highway Serial Killings Initiative last week, in which a information-sharing database helped track dangerous and mobile criminals.

On the other hand, the intersection of the Internet and the nation's power grid has produced more sobering headlines, such as those around recent cyber-attacks on the U.S. electricity grid.

In the case of national health care, however, the government said it's turning to technology to help the medical system enact some long-needed improvements.

Government agencies and policymakers aren't alone in seeing a need for change, with special interest groups like Veterans For America agreeing that a major overhaul is needed, especially with regard to health care for former service personnel.

"The system of care designed to treat post-combat mental health injuries, the most common wounds of our current wars, is inadequate to the task and will be for the foreseeable future," the group wrote in a recent report.

[cob:Special_Report]Still, the Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record represents just a first step in work that is ongoing, President Obama admitted in remarks last week.

"Over the past few months we've made much progress ... and today I'm pleased to announce some new progress," he said.

The government isn't just issuing words; it is also providing cash. The president promised the Department of Veterans Affairs $25 billion over the next five years with the goals of better serving veterans and modernizing their health care system.

"I also want to acknowledge all the wounded warriors and veterans and all those who care for them who are here today. You make us very, very proud," Obama said. "It's time to give our veterans a 21st-century [Veterans' Administration]."

The White House, DoD, and Department of Veterans Affairs had not responded to inquiries from InternetNews.com by press time.