- The Department of Veterans Affairs is coming out against proposed legislation that would require the agency to pilot a digital device that would enable patient data access and data exchange, according to recent testimony from VA Under Secretary for Benefits Paul R. Lawrence, PhD.
The legislation in question, Modernization of Medical Records Access for Veterans Act of 2017, received bipartisan introduction just over one year ago. The bill, introduced by Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Seth Mouton (D-MA), called on VA to pilot a technological device the size of a credit card that would enable veterans to review their own health information and provide access to that information to their providers.
The bill, which was sponsored in the Senate by Bill Cassidy (R-LA), saw debate in a hearing in the Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs on August 1, with Under Secretary Lawrence stating that such a pilot would be unrealistic for the VA.
VA fully supports the notion of patient data access, Lawrence clarified. The agency agrees that patients who review their own health information are more informed and have higher patient engagement levels.
“VA agrees that patient-mediated health information exchange is a valuable strategy to support making health information available directly to patients and then under their direction, making that same health information available to the providers across the health system they entrust with their care,” Lawrence pointed out in his testimony before the Senate Committee.
However, the agency does not believe the legislation supports the best method for granting patient data access.
For one, the use of a small healthcare device would not be an effective method for reaching VA patients, Lawrence said.
“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,” he explained.
“VA believes Veterans would prefer to minimize the number of physical devices or items they would need to manage,” Lawrence continued. “Given the near ubiquity of smart mobile devices owned and used by health care consumers, VA believes a strategy that focuses on improved health data availability and exchange on a mobile platform would be preferred.”
Additionally, Lawrence stated that VA’s current efforts to grant patient data access are sufficient for supporting veteran care needs. The VA is redeveloping its Blue Button initiative, which aims to support patient data access and exchange, Lawrence stated.
“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,” he explained. “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 that efforts would be better set on supporting medical device and health data interoperability. Instead of requiring patients to carry yet another health technology to the doctor’s office, it would behoove VA and other federal entities to prioritize interoperability between patient portals, EHRs, and other existing patient data access tools.
In addition to Lawrence’s above arguments, he noted that VA would see not additional funding to facilitate the pilot, which would make such a pilot unrealistic at this time.
At the time of introduction, Representatives McMorris Rodgers and Moulton said the bill would empower veterans to take ownership of their own healthcare.
“Our veterans deserve the best care imaginable,” McMorris Rodgers said upon introducing the bill last year. “When patients have the proper information about their medical history, they can work with their doctors to make the best decisions for themselves.”
Additionally, the tools set out to grant veterans the level of data access that the legislators say civilian patients enjoy.
“The men and women who have served our country deserve the same access to their own medical records that private citizens have,” Moulton stated. “Making it easier, not harder, for service members to receive the best healthcare in the world should be a top priority. This bipartisan legislation helps bring veterans healthcare into the 21st century and I encourage my colleagues to join our effort.”