A Great Victory for our Military

The announcement a few days ago that the United States Department of Defense (DoD) was adopting a comprehensive and integrated electronic health record system for the entire military, both active duty and veterans, received a warm welcome. Particularly in a time of war, the time is now to invest in improving their ability to recover and heal.

Following the announcement from the President, Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, PBS’s Lehrer News Hour featured a fascinating segment on the topic. On the panel were perspectives from a veteran’s advocacy group, a not-for-profit group that focuses on patient care issues, and a health privacy watchdog group. All three applauded the plan.

The veteran’s advocate, 20-year Army veteran Steve Robinson, advised that many veterans struggle to transition their diagnosis and records from their overseas battleground and DoD facilities to their VA application process. This integration will speed care and accuracy immensely by expediting their medical information seamlessly and real-time onto the next phase of their care. His chief concern was the accuracy of the DoD’s diagnosis as this affects and determines the VA’s coverage and offerings in the transitional and application process. Failure to be accurately diagnosed or have the ailment documented and linked to active duty causes difficulty on the part of the patient when applying for VA’s care.

Dr Donald Berwick, CEO of Institute for Healthcare Improvement, expressed the overall prospect of such a huge initiative and would like it to be the benchmark for the private sector healthcare community.

Dr. Deborah Peel of Patient Privacy Rights, identified the benefits of the shared records between active duty care and the VA, but also expressed great concern over the potential of privacy issues as patient information begins to become accessed on a broader scale. The stimulus package did contain privacy stipulations, but these need to be thoroughly scoured for loopholes or poor legislation.

In terms of overall care, this is not a “silver bullet” for the issues faced by the military’s medical community. The VA is in great need of more providers that can offer better evaluations. Mental health is a particular concern as many patients having experienced mental damage or post-traumatic stress are intimated by pursuing care and often uncertain about a shared record’s security. Keeping this information private is critical and until addressed confidently, patients will continue to resist necessary care.

Dr. Berwick noted the common analysis that ‘automating a broken system just creates an automated broken system.’ If executed correctly, this system will spearhead a much stronger healthcare system for some of our country’s most dedicated citizens. I think this process will be captivating to monitor and American’s should be proud of this step towards providing our wounded the care they have definitely earned.

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