VA opposes bill calling for pilot program to test patient data device

Agency says it already has technologies that support interoperable health information exchange nationwide.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is opposed to proposed legislation that would require the agency to conduct a pilot program providing patients with a new device—the size of a credit card—to access their personal health information and share it with providers inside and outside of the VA.

The Modernization of Medical Records Access for Veterans Act, sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), would also require the VA to conduct a full and open acquisition and award a contract within 120 days of enactment of the legislation, as well as establish a one-year pilot in at least one Veterans Integrated Services Network.

However, Paul Lawrence, undersecretary for benefits at the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration, told senators on Wednesday that the agency does not support the bill as it is written because the VA currently has technologies that support interoperable patient health information exchange nationwide.

“VA’s My HealtheVet Blue Button is piloting technology that allows Veteran patients to share their VA health records with their community care provider directly from their personal devices,” Lawrence testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in a hearing on pending legislation. “VA’s eHealth exchange technology is a rapidly growing network that connects VA with community health providers who can then securely share clinical information using a standardized approach.”

Lawrence pointed out to lawmakers that because no additional funding is provided in the Modernization of Medical Records Access for Veterans Act to support the pilot program, it “would adversely affect other higher priority health interoperability programs.”

According to Lawrence, the VA also objects to the proposed legislation because it mandates that the agency evaluate a new credit card-sized device that, in the view of the agency, is unneeded.

“Providing physical devices to patients with their health information has not been a part of VA’s strategy for supporting patient-mediated data exchange, and we do not believe that this approach would add significant value beyond current efforts,” added Lawrence. “VA believes veterans would prefer to minimize the number of physical devices or items they would need to manage. Given the near ubiquity of smart mobile devices owned and used by healthcare consumers, VA believes a strategy that focuses on improved health data availability and exchange on a mobile platform would be preferred.”

Also See: VA enables veterans to access medical images online

Going forward, Lawrence indicated that among the agency’s top priorities are to continue work on “query-based exchange and on patient-mediated exchange” via mobile and web apps supported by Federal Health Interoperability Resource (FHIR) Application Program Interfaces.

In addition, he noted that the VA is “preparing for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Trusted Exchange Framework direction that supports the ability for patients to access their health information electronically without any special effort” and which “supports a significant step towards achieving interoperability for the patient.”

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