Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Wednesday offered his 60-day report on the VA’s electronic health record (EHR) modernization effort, among other agency priorities, and emphasized the benefits that a successful modernization push will yield.

“We are adopting the same electronic health record as DoD [Department of Defense] so there is a seamless transfer of medical information for veterans leaving the service,” said Wilkie at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing. He noted that the new system would help the VA “modernize our appointments system, automate our disability claims and payment claims systems, and connect VA to DoD, private healthcare providers and private pharmacies, finally creating a continuum of care organized around the veteran’s needs.”

Wilkie also raised the possibility of an improved EHR system helping to combat opioid abuse.

“With the interoperability, a veteran will no longer be in the position of getting opioids from a private doctor or hospital, and then going to the VA and getting another opioid, because once that happens, the system kicks in and red flags are raised and the VA knows that veteran is on the spectrum,” said Wilkie.

Senators expressed concerns about the VA’s cooperation with DoD, and Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., raised the possibility of a joint hearing with Defense Secretary Mattis and the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss EHR.

“I think that would be valuable in the future, and hopefully the near future,” said Wilkie. “I will say on the EHR, there was a lot of criticism in the press about being too closely tied to the department. If we don’t get the front end of a member’s service right with the EHR, it really doesn’t help us when a veteran comes into the system. One of my goals is to make sure that the DoD end works,” said Wilkie. He noted he was responsible for the military’s Genesis EHR program when he served as undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., brought up concerns raised by the Government Accountability Office over the lack of a single point of accountability for the joint implementation of HER, and Wilkie noted that the department planned to create a single point of authority for the project.

“My goal is to take the ideas that our working group is working on and take those to Secretary Mattis so that we come to you with a plan that you will see and hopefully bless,” said Wilkie. “We have to have a single point of contact that is responsible to the two secretaries.” Wilkie assured Sen. Cassidy that a single point of authority would be named and empowered by his department to take action.

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