VA looks back on 2019, sees 'year of improvements and continued progress'

The department has innovated and expanded its uses of telehealth, advanced data centers to improve its healthcare offerings for veterans.
By Nathan Eddy
11:16 AM

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently outlined a year of milestones and service improvements, many of them executed with the aid of telehealth services, as it moves forward with its many wide-ranging wave of digitization initiatives.

The VA reported that in the last fiscal year, Veterans took advantage of telehealth more than 2.6 million times across the country, with more than 900,000 Veterans now getting care this way.

Earlier this month, the VA, with Walmart, opened its latest telehealth pilot site, part of the department's Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations, or ATLAS, initiative, which will provide clinical services including primary care, mental health and social work.

The department also announced it has so far successfully transferred 23.5 million Veterans’ health records to a shared data center with the U.S. Department of Defense this year  – collectively, more than 78 billion records have been compiled from all VA medical centers to include in this transfer.

These records total 50 terabytes of data storage, and their transfer paves the way for the VA to begin transitioning to to with its new Cerner electronic health record, with go-live scheduled for  March 2020 at five initial operating capability sites.

When the new EHR completes implementation, it will replace the 130 plus instances of the current VistA system in a streamlined solution that also powers DoD’s Military Health System.

"For decades, VA and DoD have been struggling to achieve interoperability and seamlessly share patient records between our health systems," Secretary of VA Robert Wilkie said in a statement. "This data migration is the first step to solving that problem for good."

This data spans 21 clinical domains of patient health records, which runs the gamut from lab results to pharmacy prescriptions, as well as inpatient and outpatient diagnoses and procedures and a host of other medical data.

The announcement comes as the VA completed the first full fiscal year of VA's Anywhere to Anywhere initiative, a program allowing VA health care teams to treat vets regardless of their location, including across state lines.

With an eye on reducing waste and tackling fraud, the VA is also changing the way it buys medicine and equipment by tapping into the Defense Department’s centralized acquisition system.

The agency also recently launched its new National Artificial Intelligence Institute, with the aim of boosting the health and wellness of veterans through advanced AI and machine learning technologies.

The VA also noted an increase in veterans' overall trust in its healthcare capabilities, which it says has increased from 60 percent to 72 percent over the past three years. 

"The innovations over the past year may have expanded non-VA care options, but the response has been more veterans enrolling in the VA for more care – and choosing to receive that care through VA, not an outside provider," said William J. "Doc" Schmitz, VFW National Commander, in a statement.

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.
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Twitter: @dropdeaded209

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