VA to debut new patient tracking system

Starting Monday, clinicians at hospitals operated by the Veterans Affairs Department will be able to access medical records in real time on wounded soldiers evacuated from Afghanistan and Iraq through a new VA version of a Defense Department patient tracking application.

VA will use its version of Defense's Joint Patient Tracking Application to provide its clinicians access to medical records on combat wounded soldiers throughout the continuum of care, from the battlefield in Iraq to a VA hospital in Baltimore, Dr. Edward Huycke, chief Defense coordination officer at VA, told Government Executive.

Huycke said every clinician in the 154 hospitals and more than 800 clinics operated by the Veterans Health Administration will "absolutely" have the ability to access Defense medical records through the new Web-based Veterans Tracking Application.

Clinicians at four VA facilities had gained access to JPTA in September 2006, but earlier this year Defense cut off access to the system due to the lack of a formal data sharing agreement. Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, Larry Craig, R-Idaho, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and in mid-February, the Pentagon turned access back on in February.

Huycke said VA clinicians will be able to use VTA to access the same medical information found in JPTA based on their need to know and the roles they perform.

Army Lt. Col Mike Fravell, who helped develop JPTA while serving as chief information officer at the Landstuhl Regional Army Medical Center in Germany in 2003 -- and who is now on a fellowship at VA -- said VTA will provide VA doctors with access to all Defense medical records they need on a patient, starting with the data entry by a combat medic into a hand-held computers on the battlefield.

Huycke said VTA also will help coordinate care as a service member is transferred from a military treatment facility such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center to a VA hospital for care.

Daniel Cooper, VA's undersecretary of benefits, said VTA also will help coordinate benefits for veterans in the process of being discharged. Cooper told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last week that the Veterans Benefits Administration already has started to use VTA to identify service members who have filed claims.

Cooper said VTA and other joint VA-Defense systems will help support service members' seamless transition from active duty to veteran status. Over the past several months, Iraq combat veterans have complained in the press and before congressional committees about the poor transition between the military and the VA, a process compounded by myriad paper-based records.

Huycke said VA already has started to deploy VTA to social work liaisons at military treatment facilities as well as to case workers and VBA benefits counselors. Case managers, Huycke said, will use VTA to ensure that seriously injured patients transferred from military hospitals to VA facilities will get the health care services they need in a timely fashion.

Case management starts at Defense hospitals, Huycke said, adding that case managers will use VTA to help ensure that as patients are transferred from hospitals such as Walter Reed to VA facilities their electronic records will indicate the need for a particular course of treatment, such as the fitting of a prosthetic device.

Fravell said the ability to handle case management is one of the key modifications being made to JPTA to meet VA's needs. In addition, new functionality is being built in to support VA's benefits process. VTA currently is being used in the Military Severely Injured Center and will go live throughout the VHA next Monday, Fravell said.

VA will initially deploy VTA as a separate applications window, Fravell said. But, Huycke said VHA intends to quickly integrate the system into the Computerized Patient Record System component of VA's Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture electronic health record system.

Fravell said he has a "fairly ambitious" schedule to integrate VTA with CPRS within the next six months, but believes it can be done. Huycke said the fact that Fravell was on a fellowship at VA helped in development and fielding of VTA in such a short time frame.

Neither Huycke nor Fravell would provide financial details on development and deployment of VTA, but Fravell characterized it as inexpensive. Contractor support for VTA is provided by ASM Research of Fairfax, Va., under a VA contract held by Computer Sciences Corp, Fravell said. ASM and CSC officials did not return calls for comment by deadline.

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