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VA and Defense eye DISA data centers for joint health record

The Veterans Affairs Department plans to use data centers operated by the Defense Information Systems Agency to store its electronic health records as part of a project to develop a joint record for both departments, VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker disclosed this week.

At an information technology conference on Wednesday run by the TechAmerica industry group, Baker told Nextgov: "Part of the concept of a joint records system is if you're in the same data center, that's a start. If you're in the same data center with the same standards and the same platform ... pretty soon you have the same records."

DISA CIO Henry Sienkiewicz was also supportive. "We're more than comfortable on standing up whatever service the VA really wants us to," he said. "We're completely committed to making sure we have the right infrastructure in place" for the joint health record.

A senior Defense Department official who declined to be identified said both departments "are involved in discussions to determine how we can effectively move VA data into DoD data centers. Both departments are exchanging information on requirements, capabilities and cost," as part of the joint health record project. This includes an agreement to pursue a common data center approach, the Defense official said.

Using DISA centers to store Defense and VA health records will eventually result in the largest electronic health record database in the world.

The Military Health System currently stores electronic health records for 9.6 million active-duty and retired military personnel in a 70-terabyte DISA database.

VA has 6.1 million veterans enrolled in its health care system, with records housed in multiple data centers already in the process of consolidation. VA did not answer a query on the total amount of data stored for its electronic health records, but an industry source who declined to be identified said it was close to the 70 terabytes stored by Defense.

The Defense official could not provide a precise timeline for the transfer of the VA health records to DISA, saying, "We are in the initial stages of our requirements analysis."

There are several strategies being examined. Complete data integration is the ultimate goal, and this will require significant planning and design.

Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting, said the decision to combine VA and Defense health records at DISA complies with a governmentwide data center consolidation project spearheaded by federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra. Suss said he views the consolidation of health records as a cost-efficient step for both departments that also will add military-grade security to the VA records.

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