Earlier today, during a press conference in San Diego, a group of physicians from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Kaiser Permanente announced that they have been successfully sharing electronic patient data between their two systems. The effort is part of a pilot program that aims to turn the exchange of patient data from a weeks-long paper process into something that can be done electronically in a matter of seconds.
At first glance, most patients probably won’t see the big deal. It seems like a good idea if all their doctors know the medications they are on, even if those doctors are working in different institutions. The reality is that simple information such as a problem list, medications, and allergies rarely make it to all the physicians involved in a patient’s care. The officials involved in the pilot were quick to point out the significance. Dr. Stephen Ondra, a senior policy advisor for health affairs and a neurosurgeon at the VA, called today’s announcement the most exciting moment in his medical career—and to put that in context he added that he considers neurosurgery very exciting.
Right now, this is just a pilot and involves only veterans who receive their health care at both the VA in San Diego and Kaiser Permanente. To be a part of the pilot, patients had to opt-in at both locations. But in the future, VA officials want to expand opportunity this to veterans around the country by partnering with other health systems. This kind of information sharing is especially important for veterans, Dr. Ondra said, because three out of four veterans also receive some care in the private sector. Without a standard system for gathering that information, it can fall through the cracks.
It’s easy to see how if this is successfully expanded throughout the country and beyond the VA, it could have the potential to improve patient safety and quality of care. The real question is how long will it take for this type of information exchange to make its way to patients who receive care outside of large, integrated systems like the VA, the Department of Defense, and Kaiser Permanente.