WASHINGTON — The decision last month by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to scrap plans to create a single system for electronic health records came under renewed attack this week on Capitol Hill as the Government Accountability Office questioned the departments’ assertion that the action will enable them to deliver improved health care more quickly and for less money.
Valerie Melvin, director of information management and technology resources issues for the GAO, told the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday that “long-standing institutional deficiencies” have not been addressed by the departments and could stand in the way of their attempts to create a seamless health care system.
A GAO statement prepared for the hearing said the “patchwork efforts” of the departments over the last 15 years have been plagued by poor planning, inadequate accountability and poor oversight.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Feb. 5 that they would scrap a long-touted plan to create a single system and said it would be faster and cheaper to integrate existing systems.
The announcement outraged members of Congress from both parties as well as veterans groups, who have accused the departments of squandering progress and wasting money.
“Sadly, four years and a billion dollars later, veterans are left with the feeling their government is throwing in the towel,” American Legion representative Jacob Gadd told the committee.
“I find it hard to think of another description than ‘down the drain’ for funding that may have produced little result, the same funding that could have gone toward taking care of active and former service members,” Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the committee, said during the hearing.
Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said he was “disheartened” by the decision. “I’m sure everyone in here would agree that we cannot afford to continue moving forward and back on this issue,” he said.
VA and Pentagon representatives insisted that the use of shared data, applications and user interface will allow “quick wins” that will improve health care.
“Some have interpreted this shift in strategy as backing away from our commitment to achieve an integrated electronic health record,” Defense Department representatives said in their prepared testimony. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”