Senate passes bill to broaden VA information sharing with providers

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The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed legislation by a vote of 92 to 5 that would significantly broaden information sharing between the Department of Veterans Affairs and non-VA healthcare providers.

The bipartisan VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act of 2018, which was passed by the House last week and now heads to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law, calls for improving information sharing with community providers.

The American Medical Association praised Congress for its passage of the bill, noting that “every veteran deserves timely, accessible, high quality healthcare—whether within or outside the VA system” and that the legislation will ensure they have “continuity of care external to the VA’s medical network.”

In particular, the bill seeks to “clarify that VA could share medical record information with non-department entities for the purpose of providing healthcare to patients or performing other healthcare related activities.”

Another provision requires the agency to implement a process to ensure that community care providers have access to available and relevant patient medical histories, such as a list of all prescribed medications.

The VA MISSION Act mandates that “contracted providers submit medical records of any care or services furnished, including records of any prescriptions for opioids, to VA in a timeframe and format specified by VA” and that the “VA would be responsible for recording those prescriptions in the electronic health record.”

Also See: VA uses IT to help post opioid prescribing rates for facilities

Further, the legislation bolsters the VA’s participation in a national network of state-based prescription drug monitoring programs, enabling any licensed healthcare provider or delegate to be considered an authorized recipient and user for the purposes of querying and receiving data from the PDMPs.

“Under this authority, licensed healthcare providers or delegates would be required to query the network in accordance with applicable VA regulations and policies and no state would be authorized to restrict the access of licensed healthcare providers or delegates from accessing that state’s prescription drug monitoring programs,” states the bill.

The VA MISSION Act would also allow VA clinicians to practice telemedicine regardless of the location of the provider or patient during the treatment. Specifically, the legislation makes clear that telemedicine does not need to be delivered in a federal facility.

“For too long, veterans have dealt with inflexible laws requiring them to travel long distances to federal facilities in order to receive care from a VA provider located in another state,” said Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White. “The VETS Act (part of the VA MISSION Act) will propel VA health services into the 21st century, breaking down geographic barriers to care and spurring better outcomes for the 20 million patriots who receive care through the Department of Veterans Affairs today.”

The legislation also creates a two-year pilot program under which VA will increase the use of medical scribes in emergency department and specialty care settings at 10 VA medical centers.

“Under this legislation, VA would be required to report to Congress every 180 days regarding the effects the pilot program has had on provider efficiency, patient satisfaction, average wait time, the number of patients seen per day and the amount of time required to train an employee to perform medical scribe functions under the pilot program” according to the bill.

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