Thursday, February 21, 2008

Capitol Hill News

Robert T. Howard, Assistant Secretary for Information & Technology, Department of Veterans Affairs, appeared before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on February 13th to focus on the VA IT program. According to the Secretary, the VA has faced challenges in the move toward a centralized IT Management System, but the IT capability within the VA has been reinvigorated. Now all IT staffing, equipment, and budgetary resources are under the VA Chief Information Officer with oversight across all IT activities in the Department.

The “veteran facing IT” systems and the “internal facing IT” systems comprise the VA system. The “veteran facing IT system” supports programs to provide medical care, deliver compensation benefits, pension benefits, educational opportunities, vocational rehabilitation, and employment services. This program accounts for $1,295 billion of the budget request.

The “internal facing IT” systems are those that require a more effective management of IT resources such in financial resources management, asset management, human capital management, IT infrastructure, and information protection. This budget request totals $418 million.

Some of the VA IT activities include:
  • Standardization activities supporting VA/DOD sharing will establish a common architecture to eliminate redundancies in coding, support common terminology sources between applications, and promote software and data use

  • The Scheduling Replacement project will improve access, decrease wait times for appointments, and increase provider availability. The first version will be in place at the VA Medical Center in Muskogee, Oklahoma during June 2008, and in FY 2011, the VA anticipates the national rollout to all VA sites

  • The Laboratory System Reengineering will provide the VA with a modernized Laboratory Information Management System. In FY 2009, the system will undergo independent verification and validation, plus field tests. The FY 2009 funding is needed to acquire 20% of the equipment needed for the deployment. National deployment will begin in FY 2010 and will be phased in over five years

  • The pharmacy suite of applications is undergoing modernization and pharmacy software modules will be replaced with new technology through reengineering, new development, and the purchase of commercial products. Plans are to deploy enhanced order checks in FY 2009, which will improve patient safety standards by reducing adverse drug events by 50%

Activation of new VA facilities will bring new requirements for IT and assets. Some of the needs will be for desktop computers, mobile devices, laptops, etc. By FY 2009, the VA will have 51 new community- based outpatient clinics available. In addition, there are currently 209 readjustment counseling vet centers with more projected to be opened during FY 2008. Both of these facility types will require additional IT equipment.

New legislation “Technologies for Restoring Users Security and Trust (TRUST) in Health Information Act, (H.R. 5442) was recently introduced by Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Rahm Emanuel (D-IL). The TRUST Act would promote IT while protecting privacy and security. Specifically, the proposed legislation would enable patients to keep their medical records out of health IT systems unless they give their consent, would require notification if the patient’s health information is exposed, and mandates the use of encryption and other technologies to prevent unauthorized access.

The TRUST Act would also authorize grant funding to be used to purchase qualified health IT systems. The Act would establish a public-private partnership to make recommendations concerning health IT standards, and develop the criteria for the electronic exchange of personal health information to encourage a nationwide interoperable health information technology infrastructure.