GAO: Defense and VA are making progress on data-sharing

Departments can exchange health records electronically, report says, but joint program office lacks organization and performance measures.

The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments can exchange electronic health records but still have not created performance measures for data-sharing, government auditors recently reported.

The 2008 Defense Authorization Act required the departments to accelerate the sharing of e-health records and to establish a joint interagency program office to oversee the effort. In April 2009, President Obama announced the new office would oversee the development of a shared virtual lifetime electronic record, an information sharing system that would simplify the exchange of medical records between Defense and VA for transitioning veterans.

Since the Government Accountability Office's last audit of the program in July 2009, the departments have fulfilled three remaining priorities, including the expansion of Defense's inpatient health records system to an additional Air Force and Navy site, and demonstrating the Pentagon's capability to scan and share service members' medical documents with VA.

But the joint office lacks the organizational and management capacity to achieve a fully interoperable electronic health record sharing system, according to the January 2010 GAO report. In a January 2009 audit, GAO recommended Defense and VA create a schedule for data-sharing goals.

"Specifically, the office does not yet have a schedule that includes information about tasks, resource needs or relationships between tasks associated with ongoing activities to increase interoperability. Also, key IT management responsibilities in the areas of planning and performance measurement remain incomplete," stated the 2010 report.

Both departments agreed with GAO's recommendations. Defense and VA officials said they are reviewing a master program plan, which they expect to approve in February.

The interagency office recently filled key staff positions, with VA selecting a permanent deputy director in December and Defense appointing a permanent director in October to lead the office.