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WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) model system of electronic health records, developed with extensive involvement of front-line health-care providers, has won the prestigious “Innovations in American Government Award.” The annual award, sponsored by HarvardUniversity’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Kennedy School of Government and administered in partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government, honors excellence and creativity in the public sector.
“This great honor is testimony to the vision of health care professionals throughout VA,” said the Honorable R. James Nicholson, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “Our electronic health records are without peer and ensure that our nation’s veterans receive the best care this country can provide.”
While health-care costs in the United States continue to soar, VA is reducing costs and errors while increasing safety and efficiency.
Outside of VA, because patient records are not readily available, one out of seven Americans ends up hospitalized when outpatient care is all that’s needed. For the same reason, one out of five lab tests is needlessly repeated outside the VA system. And while the costs of health care continue to soar for most Americans, the VA is reducing costs, reducing errors, and becoming the model for what modern health care management and delivery should look like.
“The involvement of front-line providers, use of performance measures and universal use of electronic health records have enabled VA to set the national benchmark in quality of care” said Dr. Jonathan Perlin, VA Under Secretary for Health. “The electronic records system is called VistA, and it is an essential part of VA’s commitment to giving every patient safe, effective, efficient, compassionate health care.”
VA’s complete adoption of electronic health records and performance measures have resulted in high-quality, low-cost health care with high patient satisfaction. A recent RAND study found that VA outperforms all other sectors of American health care across a spectrum of 294 measures of quality in disease prevention and treatment. For six straight years, VA has led private-sector health care in the independent American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Electronic health records also provide numerous other benefits in cost, quality and access to care. The cost of maintaining the system is $80 per patient per year, less than the cost of one unnecessarily repeated lab test. In the last 10 years, VistA’s efficiencies have offset cost increases associated with a 100 percent increase in the number of veterans receiving VA care.
For example, VistA has helped VA save 6,000 lives by improving rates of pneumonia vaccination among veterans with emphysema, cutting pneumonia hospitalizations in half and reducing costs by $40 million per year. Patient waiting times have declined while customer service improved, and access to care has increased because of on-line availability of health information.
In addition to saving money, VistA saves lives and ensures continuity of care even under the most extreme circumstances. Many of the thousands of residents who fled the GulfCoast because of Hurricane Katrina left behind vital health records. Records for the 40,000 veterans in the area were almost immediately available to clinicians across the country, even though the VA Medical Center in Gulfport, Mississippi, was destroyed and the New Orleans VA Medical Center was closed and evacuated. Veterans were able to resume their treatments, refill their prescriptions, and get the care they needed because their medical records were immediately accessible to providers at other VA facilities.
VistA is one of seven government initiatives chosen from 1,000 applications to receive this year’s Innovations awards. Because the programs are models for government’s capacity to do good, and do it well, the $100,000 grant specifically supports sharing of program information with other organizations.
VA plans to disseminate information and provide demonstrations of VistA at its medical centers across the country. Additional information is available by visiting the website www.innovations.va.gov , calling 202-208-2393, sending an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org or contacting a local VA medical center.