Scott Blackburn, the VA’s Executive in Charge, Office of Information and Technology, is glad the care is so good. He had back surgery at the VA hospital in Baltimore, and while he was very pleased with his care he “was little bit surprised at the lack of information and the history that’s not been shared between [the Defense Department] and VA,” he told the audience during the opening keynote panel at AFCEA Bethesda’s 10th annual Healthcare IT Conference.

“I think the quality of experience is absolutely terrific, but it could be so much better if we had that information flow.”

Blackburn’s anecdote sums up the theme of the day: How the federal government medical community, is working hard to drive collaboration and interoperability, including streamlining networks and reducing the number of legacy systems that require too many resources in a budget-restricted environment.

This year there are 18 priority projects,” including electronic health records, telehealth – including mental health service delivery, and suicide prevention.

Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the Executive in Charge at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), said the organization is aware that patients’ expectations are changing. “Younger veterans want an app to know how late their appointment is running … That means far more to them than our ideas about the traditional clinician-patient relationship.”

This impetus to drive collaboration, interoperability, and orchestrate the flow of data between agencies, environments is not lost on Guy Kiyokawa, deputy director of the Defense Health Agency (DHA).  Kiyokawa noted that his agency was created in 2013 and is tasked with taking these multiple infrastructures, networks, systems, medical devices, information flows, and bringing them together.

“It’s a worldwide deployment with many stakeholders,” he said. “It’s one of our biggest challenges. Even in the Pacific Northwest [where] there are only four hospitals, we’re working very hard for a common workflow … [After that], how do we bring in all these different records and systems and collapse them to a single system?” Then take those results and figure out how to apply them globally – quite a challenge.

“Interoperability is a priority for Congress,” noted industry expert, Chris Ginder, who is responsible for federal healthcare at NetApp. “The stage was set by the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law in 2016,” he said, “but everyone can relate to the inefficiency of having to hand carry medical records from physician to specialist to hospital, and the concerns that vital information might be lost in this shuffle.”

“At the heart of interoperability is data. People think it about integrating an entire healthcare system but at its fundamental level is about making sure that data is available in meaningful ways to all major players,” Ginder concluded.
Learn more about leveraging the power of data. Download the Data Thriver paper here.