GAO: VA-DOD must improve interoperability management

The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have achieved certain goals to make their health computer systems interoperable by a September 30 deadline, but are lagging behind in their efforts to establish the management of interagency programs, GAO said in a July 28 report.

VA and DOD met criteria for exchanging social history data, sharing physical examination data and demonstrating the initial operation of the network gateway, said Valerie Melvin, GAO Director for Human Capital and Management Information Systems Issues. Departments expect that by September 30, the VA will be able to provide the VA with the periodic health assessment data stored in the Ministry of Health’s electronic health record.

However, departments will need to take additional steps to achieve two other targets after September 30, she said. The Ministry of Defence, which plans to expand its system of medical records for inpatients in Essentris, has revised its target of making the system operational for 92% of the Ministry of Defence’s hospital beds until September 2010. The DOD and VA will also demonstrate only an initial ability to digitize the medical records of service members in the Department of Health’s electronic health record and share them electronically with VA by September 2009.

The lack of progress on the part of the Departments’ Interagency Program Office adds to the uncertainty about whether they will achieve full interoperability by the deadline, Melvin said. While departments have generally made progress in making the program office operational, the office has not yet completed a detailed project plan or integrated master schedule.

“Without these important tools, the Office is limited in its ability to effectively manage and report on progress in delivering interoperable capabilities to improve the quality of health care provided to our country’s veterans,” said Melvin.

The Interagency Program Office does not yet function as a single point of responsibility for the construction of fully interoperable EDD systems between the DOD and the VA. While departments have made progress in establishing the office by hiring additional staff, they continue to fill key leadership positions on an interim basis.

VA and DOD should establish a project plan and a detailed integrated master schedule to improve the management of their interoperability efforts, Melvin said.

Departments are trying to share information between their main EDD systems: VA Veterans On Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (Vista), which was developed in-house by VA clinicians and IT staff, and THE DOD AHLTA, which consists of multiple legacy systems developed from commercial software products that have been customized for specific uses.