By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 14, 2009 - For servicemembers who still remember hand-carrying their medical records back and forth to appointments, the new virtual lifetime electronic record will help prevent misplaced paperwork and help providers maintain and offer quality health care, the acting director of the program said. President Barack Obama, along with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, announced April 9 that VA and the Defense Department have taken steps toward creating a joint virtual lifetime electronic record, or VLER.
"The president's vision, as he expressed that day, will permit information vital to health care, benefits and services to be available seamlessly to both departments from the moment a servicemember enters the military until the servicemember's or veteran's death," Navy Rear Adm. Gregory A. Timberlake, acting director of the Defense Department-VA Interagency Program Office, said yesterday in a "DotMilDocs" interview on Pentagon Web Radio.
The steps to create the electronic record exchange began a little more than a year ago when the program office was established as the single point of accountability for the records in response to Section 1635 of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2008.
"VLER will serve as a model for a nation, especially at this tumultuous time of health care reform, and is intended to be a lifetime, personal record for use by the servicemembers, their families and service providers to ensure a seamless continuum of care and benefits," Timberlake said.
"The president challenged the departments to work together to define and build a seamless system of integration with one simple goal: when a servicemember separates from the military, he or she will no longer have to walk paper records from a [Defense Department] duty station to a local VA health center," the admiral said. "Their electronic records will transition along with them and remain with them forever."
While the electronic record will help to reduce the loss of hard-copy health records, it also is intended to provide a framework to ensure that health care providers have all the information they need to deliver high-quality health care, while reducing medical errors. The electronic record is a critical piece of the health care puzzle because, while the Defense Department and VA can share information electronically, it may not be easily accessible by private clinicians, Timberlake said.
"A significant amount of health care provided to [the Defense Department] and VA beneficiaries occurs by private-sector providers," he said. "So, we need the ability to make health records available to the providers who need it, regardless if they are a military, VA, or doctor within the public community."
Numerous, ongoing data-sharing activities are continuing among agencies that share information and are committed to improving health care to "servicemen and women of the present, past and future," Timberlake said.
"Every day, millions of pieces of health information are shared between [the Defense Department] and VA; however, as Congress mandated and as the departments have acknowledged, there is more work to do to make it flow smoother," he said.
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg is assigned to Defense Media Activity's Emerging Media Directorate.)