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VA's Electronic Health Records System Pushing National Standards

WASHINGTON, April 2 -- Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tommy G. Thompson recently announced an initiative to adopt uniform national standards throughout the federal government for electronic health records based on standards already used by VA.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates the largest integrated health care system in the country, has long been in the vanguard of developing and using electronic health records. The Institute of Medicine called VA's electronic records system one of the best in the nation.

"VA is a national leader in the development and use of computerized patient records," said Principi. "I am proud that the health information technology and standards developed by VA to improve health care for veterans will benefit all Americans, from newborn babies to senior citizens."

This initiative, officially called Consolidated Health Informatics, also involves the Department of Defense and a number of other federal agencies that use health care information. It is one of many initiatives being undertaken government-wide as part of the President's E-Gov initiative.

Patient records in VA's electronic health system, called "VistA," are fully electronic, portable and readily accessible. VA developed the electronic record system to provide a single place for health care providers to review and update a patient's health record and order medications, special procedures, X-rays, nursing orders, diets and laboratory tests.

All aspects of a patient's record are integrated, including active problems, allergies, current medications, laboratory results, vital signs, hospitalizations and outpatient clinic history. All electronic records are password protected to guarantee patient privacy.

The use of VistA, the electronic health record system, has improved the quality of care and patient safety in VA medical facilities.

Other features of the electronic health record system include: - A checking system to alert clinicians if an order they are entering could cause a problem;
- A notification system that immediately alerts clinicians to clinically significant events;
- A patient posting system that alerts health care providers to issues specifically related to the patient, including crisis notes, adverse reactions and advance directives;
- Templates to automatically create reports;
- A clinical reminder system that electronically alerts clinicians that certain actions, such as examinations, immunizations, patient education and laboratory tests need to be performed; and
- Remote data view to allow clinicians to see the patient's medical history at all the VA facilities where the patient was seen.

In 2001, VA decided to adopt existing national health information standards for all its facilities to improve the electronic health record system and to implement a health data repository. Additionally, for many years VA has collaborated with the Department of Defense, HHS and standards development organizations to identify, develop and promote adoption of national health information standards.

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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