Sens. Blackburn, Tester Work to Keep VA on Target in $16B Electronic Health Record Modernization

U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Jon Tester (D-MT) are fighting to keep the VA on target and transparent on its roll-out of the new $16 billion commercial electronic health record system for 9 million veterans.

Blackburn and Tester introduced the VA Electronic Health Record Advisory Committee Act to establish a third-party oversight committee to monitor the implementation of the record system, Blackburn said in a press release Tuesday.

The VA is undertaking a decade-long transition to bring veterans’ health records into the 21st century by ensuring that they can have access to a seamless electronic health record across the VA and Department of Defense health systems.

“A crucial part of giving our veterans better care is improving the way DOD and the VA organize their health records,” Blackburn said. “The EHR Advisory Committee will be entirely devoted to ensuring the implementation and transition is done as smoothly as possible. Comprised of professionals who have experience in the health care field, as well as veterans currently receiving care at the VA, this committee will have the knowledge and expertise to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the VA’s services.”

Tester said, “The new electronic health record system is too important to veterans’ health care for the VA to get wrong. Our bill will create another layer of accountability and oversight of the process to make sure the VA roll-out does right by the nine million veterans who will rely on this system.”

A September/October 2005 VA magazine, VAnguard, said the VA’s efforts to make records electronic paid off during Hurricane Katrina. The magazine is available here.

In addition to evacuating people, the New Orleans staff also managed to save health records for up to 40,000 veterans. VA is the nation’s only health system with a fully computerized patient record system containing all records, pre­ scriptions, laboratory and radiology results. When floodwater began seeping into the hospital, computer specialists went to work securing the electronic patient health files.

The files were transferred to the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, where Chief In­ formation Officer Frank Vazquez and staff worked around the clock to prepare for the tapes and restore the data. All the records were back online by Sept. 2.

Blackburn said the 11-member EHR Advisory Committee would operate separately from the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense and would be made up of medical professionals, information technology and interoperability specialists, and veterans currently receiving care from the VA.

The Committee will analyze the VA’s implementation strategy, develop a risk management plan, tour VA facilities as they transition, and ensure stakeholders have a voice in the process. The Committee will meet with the VA secretary at least twice a year on their analysis and recommendations for implementation.

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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.
Background Photo “Veteran Affairs Hospital” by Dwight Burdette. CC BY 3.0.








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