VA, Kaiser plan to link electronic medical records

The Department of Veterans Affairs and Kaiser Permanente are launching a pilot program to exchange electronic health record information using the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) created by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The pilot program slated to begin mid-December 2009, will connect Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect and the VA's electronic health record system, VistA, two of the largest EHR systems in the country.

Officials said starting this week, VA and Kaiser Permanente will send a joint letter to Veterans in the San Diego area who receive care from both institutions, to invite Veterans to participate in the pilot program. Veterans, who respond and ask to participate, will enable their public and private sector healthcare providers and doctors to share specific health information electronically.

"The ability to share critical health information is essential to interoperability," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki. "Utilizing the NHIN's standards and network will allow organizations like VA and the Department of Defense to partner with private sector health care providers to promote better, faster and safer care for Veterans."

Officials said VA, DoD, and HHS have been working closely to create a system that will modernize the way healthcare is delivered and benefits are administered. DoD will be included in the next phase of the pilot program in early 2010.

"This partnership demonstrates the power of a large-scale EHR that safely connects several care systems.  Securely digitizing American's healthcare information is only the first step in realizing the cost saving and improved quality benefits possible with healthcare technology," said Andrew M. Wiesenthal, MD, associate executive director of The Permanente Federation. "The reality is that most people receive care from multiple providers. Without the ability for caregivers and patients to have access to their data, all of the time, there is the possibility for wasted time and resources duplicating tests and procedures. Exchange of current health record data at the point of treatment also improves quality, allowing medical decisions to be made quickly, with the relevant background."