VA and DOD Now Default to Sharing Patient Data with Private-Sector Providers


The joint electronic health records management office launched an information exchange program to make it easier to share patient data with thousands of “community partners.”

While many of the central projects under the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments’ concurrent electronic health records rollouts are being delayed to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, the joint program office reached a major data-sharing milestone this weekend.

On Saturday, the joint Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization, or FEHRM, program office stood up the DOD and VA Health Information Exchange, which will allow medical providers at both agencies to share patient data with private-sector health care organization, such as specialists and urgent care clinics.

The new exchange is an integral part of the agencies’ electronic health records programs. Both DOD and VA had major EHR management system rollouts planned for this spring but had to delay those projects as health care workers focus on combating the spread of coronavirus. However, in a letter to Congress in early April, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said work on the health exchange was on target.

"The recent COVID-19 pandemic underlines the importance for clinicians on the front lines to quickly access a patient's health record, regardless of where that patient previously received care," said Dr. Neil Evans, FEHRM program office interim director. "As the DOD and VA implement a single, common record, the joint health information exchange and the associated expansion of community exchange partners is a critical step forward, delivering immediate value to all DOD and VA sites."

The exchange—formally announced Mondayincludes 215 partners, with most providers able to send and receive patient data from the agencies. However, a few providers only share patient data in one direction, either sharing data with VA and DOD or accepting information from the agencies, but not both. 

The number of partner providers is expected to increase significantly before the end of the year, as the FEHRM office plans to connect to a third-party platform called CommonWell, “a network of more than 15,000 community providers,” according to the release.

Health information exchanges are not new in the private sector but weren’t available at VA until the 2018 passage of the VA MISSION Act, which, among other things, prompted the agency to begin work on a data-sharing platform.

Prior to launch of the new exchange, veterans could share information with private-sector providers but had to file a specific form to opt-in. Under the new exchange, veterans and active-duty service members are automatically enrolled to share data with approved “participating partners.”

As with similar programs, patients can opt-out of the health exchange if they don’t want to share their health data.