House blasts 'U-turn' on iEHR project

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Marla Durben Hirsch contributed to this report.

House Veterans' Affairs Committee members had some harsh words for VA and Department of Defense officials at a hearing on Wednesday for altering their approach to forming an integrated electronic health record, calling the move "a step backward."

The two agencies, which initially had planned to create a joint records system from the ground up, cited budgetary and time constraints when they announced that they instead would focus on using "existing solutions" to combine their current and disparate systems.

Committee chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said that the model has "been tried and failed" in his opening remarks at the hearing. "Interoperable is not the same as integrated," Miller said, according to an EHR Intelligence article.

Valerie Melvin, government accountability office director of information management and technology resources, who authored a report that outlined concerns with the new approach, blamed the departments' backtracking on "inadequate program management and accountability."

"In particular, there has been an persistent absence of clearly defined, measurable goals and metrics, together with associated plans and time frames, that would enable the departments to report progress in achieving full interoperability," she said. "The … decision to reverse course and continue to operate separate systems and develop additional interoperable capabilities raises concern in light of historical challenges."

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) called the decision "inexcusable," adding that, were it a private sector project, it "would be done by now," according to an article in the Marine Corps Times.

Outgoing VA CIO Roger Baker, who also testified at the hearing, admitted that communication between the VA and the DoD on the project has been "poor," according to EHR Intelligence.

To learn more:
- here are the hearing materials
- here's the GAO's report/testimony (.pdf)
- read the EHR Intelligence article
- check out the Marine Corps Times piece

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