WASHINGTON – The departments of defense and veterans affairs plan to fully merge their health care records systems in the next five years, with the goal of giving troops and veterans a single, seamless system to track medical care throughout their lifetime.
President Barack Obama touted the idea of a lifelong electronic military medical record in April 2009, as part of dramatic improvements to veterans health care. But during a joint appearance in Illinois on Monday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced they hope to put the single system in place in 2017, creating what would be the world’s largest electronic health record system.
“We have the responsibility and the opportunity now to anticipate the needs of returning veterans and to guarantee them a seamless transition from servicemember to veteran status,” Shinseki said. “Secretary Panetta and I have committed to a single common joint integrated electronic health record … one that is open in architecture and nonproprietary in design to expand information sharing, eliminate gaps between our two robust health care systems.”
Veterans groups for years have pushed for a “seamless” health system for troops and veterans, relating horror stories of lost paperwork resulting in redundant medical examinations. But progress has been slowed by technical challenges and internal turf wars.
Last year, officials from the two departments compromised on a path ahead, and Shinseki said Monday that officials will launch system test sites in Texas and Virginia in 2014.
He defended the timeline – reporters at the event noted the target date is two presidential elections away – saying that officials are “trying to bring those two systems together in a way that doesn't sacrifice quality or safety.” He also said the transition could take place sooner, if testing goes well.