Jon Stewart Weighs in on Defense-VA E-Health Record Standoff

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The comedian suggests Obama 'just command' the Pentagon to adopt VistA.

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In one of those delicious coincidences that make life enjoyable, on Wednesday afternoon Stephen Warren, the Veterans Affairs Department acting chief information officer, told a handful of reporters that VA’s Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture -- or  VistA -- electronic health record stands out as a world class system that would serve the Defense Department well.

Later that night, Jon Stewart delivered a strong endorsement of VistA on The Daily Show on Comedy Central, describing it as a “generally superior program” to the Defense Department electronic health record AHLTA, or Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application.

On Feb. 27, VA formally pitched VistA to Defense, which has been shopping around for a new EHR.

Warren said Wednesday that by using the same EHR, Defense and VA could eliminate the need to translate information as records are shifted between the two.

Stewart hammered home the lack of compatibility between AHLTA and VistA -- well known inside the Beltway -- to his national audience. “These two programs are unable to communicate with each other,” Stewart said, paused, and added, “I swear to you this is true -- how insane is this complication?”

Stewart then ran a clip of Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chair of the House VA Committee, making an analogy that the disconnect between AHLTA and VistA is like Xbox and PlayStation game consoles “which can play the same game on the same TV screen but don’t talk to each other.”

This is a flawed analogy, Stewart said. The rival game companies are “competitors – their mission is to destroy each other,” Stewart said, “which is not the relationship you expect from the part of the government which takes care of our disabled veterans and the part of the government that creates them.”

Stewart, in this short bit, boldly summed up the absurdity of relationship between Defense and VA and over any joint EHR development. As Miller said at a Feb. 27 hearing, when it comes to development of an EHR, Defense and VA have been at a standoff for at least a decade, “and no one wants to blink.” He said Defense, not VA, further frustrates the process by “not wanting to give up ground.”

Stewart said the incompatible EHR mess could be resolved easily by President Obama, who in his role as commander in chief should “just command” a fix.