I have picked up strong signals from multiple sources that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who took office on Feb. 27, has already met with Veterans Affairs chief Eric Shinseki, with the integrated electronic health record a key topic of their meeting.
When he served as deputy director of the Veterans Affairs Administration in 1982, Hagel stood out as a key backer of the nascent Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, and his interest in electronic health records continues to this day.
On Feb. 6 Hagel’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, and Shinseki scrapped plans to develop the iEHR due to costs, but did say they planned to pursue less expensive technologies to make their respective systems more interoperable. I'm told that Hagel wants to renew an iEHR pact with Defense -- and is eying a wide range of options, including adoption of VistA by Defense.
The VA pitched VistA to Defense the same day Hagel took office, but I’m told mid-level munchkins at the Military Heath System have been working since then to derail any joint record, particularly the use of VistA.
On Wednesday, Dr. Robert Petzel, VA undersecretary for health, told a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing that the iEHR has “not been scrapped,” in response to a question from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
This confused Blumenthal, who said he had read all the press reports that the iEHR had been dropped.
Petzel answered that Shinseki was “committed” to “interoperability” with Defense, with initial rollout of a joint system scheduled for 2014.
Does this mean Hagel and Shinseki have now agreed to revive the iEHR, or just a smaller scale interoperable system, whatever that means?
The answer could come within a month, following yet another Hagel/Shinseki meeting, I’m told.