The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is working hard to uphold its reputation as an innovator in the field of health information technology (HIT). That reputation was firmly established in the mid-1990s when the federal agency introduced its revolutionary VistA electronic health record (EHR) system. The VA announced 4 cutting-edge technology initiatives during the past several months. 

No Co-Pays for Telehealth

As of May 7, 2012, the VA no longer requires veterans to fork over a co-pay when they use the Home-Based Primary Care (HBPC) program. HBPC provides primary care in the homes of veterans with complex medical, social and behavioral conditions. In a final rule posted by the Federal Register, the VA said it was eliminating the co-pay in an effort to remove any barriers that might prevent veterans from receiving the care they need because they are ill, frail or unable to travel.

The VA’s nationwide telehealth system has been a success for both the agency and its patients. For example, the department’s Northwest Health Network saved roughly $742,000 in 2011 through the use of telehealth in more than 23,000 patient encounters. On the patient side, the region’s telehealth network has achieved a 59% reduction in hospital stays, an 89% reduction in days spent in nursing homes and a 21% reduction in 30-day hospital readmission rates.  

An Integrated EHR

The VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) plan to implement their long-awaited integrated electronic health record (iEHR) system 2 years ahead of schedule. In 2014, the departments will install the joint EHR in their Norfolk, VA and San Antonio, TX hospitals. When national deployment is completed, the iEHR will be the largest medical record system in the world, serving 7.8 million veterans and 9.7 million military personnel through 59 military hospitals and 152 VA hospitals, according to NextGov

Mobile Apps for Doctors on the Go

Clinicians at the Washington, D.C. Veterans Medical Center have developed a mobile EHR application for the Apple iPhone that the VA hopes to roll out this summer. VA physicians will be able to use their iPhones and iPads to review patient information on the go or during office or hospital visits.  

iPads for Family Caregivers

The VA’s Clinic-in-Hand program plans to provide more than 1,000 iPads to family caregivers of patients so they can access VA apps and communicate more easily with a relative’s physicians. To participate in the program, a caregiver must be approved as a "primary provider of personal care services" under the Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program. The Clinic-in-Hand program plans to distribute its new mobile EHR and other apps to caregivers by 2013, according to NextGov.