Opening Statement of The Honorable Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs
I would like to welcome everyone to today’s hearing titled “Electronic Health Record U-Turn: Are VA and DoD Headed in the Wrong Direction?”
Today’s hearing is prompted by the recent announcement by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs that they would no longer be developing a single, integrated electronic health record, or “iEHR.” The announcement earlier this month was surprising to this Committee and the Congress given the number of previous statements that the health record was coming along as planned, even on an accelerated timeline.
The other surprise about VA and DoD’s announcement was that this Committee first heard about it from news reports instead of directly from VA itself. While that’s not the first time this has happened, it is equally disappointing given the number of times that this Committee has voiced its willingness to work with the departments in support of making the iEHR a reality.
In late 2010, both departments co-announced an integrated Electronic Health Record as “a single solution to our common requirements.”
In June 2012, the two departments set an expected timeline of a 2017 rollout for the iEHR.
In July 2012, both Secretaries testified to this Committee and the Armed Services Committee, reinforcing that a single integrated record was the way forward and that their respective departments would achieve that goal together.
This past December, it was stated that VA and DoD could roll out the health record even faster, without much supporting detail.
The latest news, a mere two months later, has us asking whether even the original 2017 timeline is realistic, and whether the end product will deliver that same level of integration for transitioning service members.
“Interoperable” is not the same as “integrated.” While I understand that information can still be shared, VA and DoD must better explain to this Committee, the Congress, and, most importantly, to service members how this new way forward is going to deliver what has been mandated, is badly needed, and has been talked about for over a decade.
I am concerned that this new approach is a step backwards toward the model that had been previously tried and failed, namely, maintaining two different systems between two departments and wishfully thinking that the two systems will eventually talk to one another. I am further concerned about the stewardship of taxpayer dollars over the past several years. I find it hard to think of another description than “down the drain” for funding that may have produced little result- the same funding that could have gone toward taking care of active and former service members.
Assistant Secretary Baker, I understand you are leaving VA in the very near future and therefore won’t directly oversee the joint electronic health record’s development much longer. While I wish more progress had been made during your tenure, I can only hope that your successor doubles down on his or her efforts to make this a reality.
The need for a seamless record hasn’t been discussed for over a decade with the mere expectation that we’ll just continue to discuss it. The time for action is long past, and each time the objective changes or the goalposts move, it is service members and veterans who lose the most. That is unacceptable to this Committee, and should be to VA and DoD as well. I look forward to hearing more today about how, when, and in what form VA and DoD will finally bring about a joint electronic health record.