IT Problems Still Bedevil DOD-VA Health Care Center

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Because of different network security standards, the two departments share resources over three networks -- not one.

Five years ago, Congress mandated the creation of the first medical center to be operated by both the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs as a model for joint delivery of health care across both agencies.

In its short history, however, the Chicago-based Federal Health Care Center has struggled with costly IT and planning issues, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

The report suggests IT infrastructure problems, first identified in 2012 when a $122 million project went over budget, have not been mitigated.

Both VA and DOD share resources at the facility, but to accommodate the agencies’ different network security standards, they share resources over three networks -- not one. The resulting complexity has “impeded efficiency” for staff of both agencies to consistently access VA and DOD’s electronic health records system, according to the report.

Through upgrades and expanded data sharing support, DOD and VA have tried to improve the health care center’s IT infrastructure reliability. Aside from using a single network, there seems to be no clear-cut solution.

In responses to the GAO report, officials said a single-network IT infrastructure is not going to happen.

“VA and DOD officials told GAO that the departments do not plan to resolve differences in network security standards to the extent that the FHCC would be able to have a single-network IT infrastructure,” the report stated. “According to VA officials, this is due, at least in part, to the departments’ different missions.”

The problems uncovered in GAO’s latest report is, in one sense, a physical manifestation of the massive struggle between VA and DOD to seamlessly share electronic health records. The two agencies’ respective systems each manage some 10 million beneficiaries. Pentagon officials believe they are ready to certify health records interoperability required by the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, but Congress and its watchdogs contend such interoperability is years away.

Last year, the Pentagon awarded Leidos and its partners a $9 billion contract to develop its next-generation electronic health records system. By 2022, Pentagon officials expect its commercial system to be “interoperable and running” with VA and other commercial platforms.

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