Department of Defense and VA Prepare to Pool Health Data

Laboratory test results comprise a major portion of the electronic patient record

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IT’S ANOTHER IMPORTANT STEP on the road to a true “universal patient medical record.” Two government agencies are preparing to consolidate access to separate pools of healthcare data.

Earlier this week, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced two pilot projects that, for the first time, will allow physicians working in the health system of each agency to use a single portal to electronically access their patients’ medical records in either agencies’ data base.

“One pilot project involves the North Chicago Hospital of VISN 12 in the VA and the Great Lakes Naval Station, also located in North Chicago,” stated Bruce Dunn, M.D., Director of Pathology and Clinical Laboratories for VISN 12. “A second pilot project will take place on the west coast. It involves the San Diego Naval Station and the San Diego VA Medical Center.”

“The information exchange between these two departments is part of an initiative which started in 2000,” explained Dunn. This program has several objectives. First, the DoD wants the capability to provide a continuous medical record for service personnel and their families, regardless of where they are stationed in the world. Second, the electronic medical records of service personnel should be accessible by the VA, whenever it provides continuing healthcare.

“This is a significant undertaking,” noted Dunn. “Projections are that the DoD’s data base system will hold information on up to 9 million military personnel and dependents. Storage needs are estimated to be as much as 50 petabytes of data. Experts involved in this project say that, if this data were printed as text on both sides of a piece of paper, there would be enough paper to reach the Moon and back to Earth twice!”

DoD’s Healthcare Initiatives

This initiative once again places the DoD and the VA in the forefront of advancing healthcare’s evolution toward an all-electronic system of information management. Unlike most hospitals in the private sector, which still have paper medical records, the DoD has used electronic medical records for 10 years. However, data is currently stored at each individual facility. Pilot projects like the ones mentioned here are steps to achieve better integration and access to clinical data.

THE DARK REPORT observes that the two pilot projects represent another stage in the military’s initiative to use LOINC (Logical Observation Identifier Names and Codes) to link laboratory test results across all military hospital laboratories across the world. (See TDR, June 24, 2002.) This important story will be updated as appropriate.

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