July 05, 2016

Sens. Warner & Kaine Push V-A to Move Forward on Local Pilot Program to Improve Veterans’ Health Care

Washington – U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) are pushing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V-A) for an update on a local pilot program designed to improve the quality and accessibility of health care for our nation’s veterans. In a letter to V-A Secretary Robert A. McDonald, the Senators expressed continued concern about long wait times for veterans seeking health care, and pressed the Secretary for an update on the implementation of the National Capital Region Veteran Centered Care in the Community Pilot Project. The pilot project, which will be operated in the D.C.-area and surrounding suburbs, will integrate veterans’ health records and make them available electronically via mobile app, with the goal of designing a model for portable, personalized V-A health care that can be implemented across the country.

“The purpose of this pilot project is to provide greater value to the veteran by improving access to their electronic health data, giving veterans access to the best available chronic care management, and improving personalized care options. This program is intended to provide a prototype for expanding the Veterans Choice program across the nation, using an academic/public/private partnership model. Patient-centered care is a critical component of a high-performing, high-quality health care system,” the Senators wrote. “Expansion of health information technology and consumer E-health tools have created new opportunities for individuals to participate actively in monitoring and directing their health and health care. Patient-generated data offers yet another engagement and analytical tool if the data can be integrated in a meaningful way into the electronic health record and presented to providers in an actionable, distilled format that supports clinical decision making.”

Two years ago, in response to the nationwide crisis of veterans’ access to care, Congress established the Veterans Choice program, allowing veterans who live 40 miles from the closest V-A facility, or who face a significant delay in scheduling an appointment, to access non-V-A care. Despite this $10 billion investment in veterans’ health, wait times have not substantially improved.

“One of the biggest challenges to successful, comprehensive data integration and analytics may be the disparate, inaccessible silos of patient information across a variety of providers and health systems,” wrote the Senators. “This lack of interoperability with community providers negatively impacts access and quality of care. Limits to the free flow of veterans’ healthcare information across providers and care settings create a barrier to a comprehensive, holistic patient record and to the mobility of veterans’ data, which is a fundamental component of choice. The National Capital Region Veteran Centered Care in the Community Pilot Project intends to address these challenges by providing a platform-based approach to full spectrum personalized care for veterans through interoperability with community partners.”

The proposed pilot project would address challenges that have plagued the Veterans Choice program by allowing the free flow of health information between providers and patients in care settings. Its intended goal is to create a model that can be used nationally to improve the quality and availability of care by providing veterans with the information they need to make an informed decision about their health care options. Funding for the pilot, which will focus on the National Capital Region, has already been provided, and the project has been selected, but to date, the V-A has not moved forward to put the pilot into action.

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Secretary McDonald, 

In order to address recent critical issues with data and health care accessibility for our nation’s Veterans, Congress worked with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to pass the Veterans Choice Act. The intent of the legislation, which we supported, was to shorten wait times and address efficiency issues by enabling Veterans to access non-VA physicians if they are more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or if they are going to have to wait longer than 30 days for a VA provider to see them.

Despite the intentions of the Veterans Choice program, wait times have not substantially improved. In February 2015, we, along with 38 of our Senate colleagues, wrote to you to highlight our concerns with the implementation of the program. Since then, there are still lengthy delays in approving care for veterans and in getting reimbursed for providing care. Indeed, some health care networks have stopped taking patients within the Veterans Choice program altogether.

To that end, we write to request an update on the implementation of the National Capital Region Veteran Centered Care in the Community Pilot Project. The purpose of this pilot project is to provide greater value to the veteran by improving access to their electronic health data, giving veterans access to the best available chronic care management, and improving personalized care options. This program is intended to provide a prototype for expanding the Veterans Choice program across the nation, using an academic/public/private partnership model. 

Patient¬ centered care is a critical component of a high-performing, high-¬quality health care system. Expansion of health information technology and consumer E-health tools have created new opportunities for individuals to participate actively in monitoring and directing their health and health care. Patient¬ generated data offers yet another engagement and analytical tool if the data can be integrated in a meaningful way into the electronic health record and presented to providers in an actionable, distilled format that supports clinical decision making. 

One of the biggest challenges to successful, comprehensive data integration and analytics may be the disparate, inaccessible silos of patient information across a variety of providers and health systems. This lack of interoperability with community providers negatively impacts access and quality of care. Limits to the free flow of veterans’ healthcare information across providers and care settings create a barrier to a comprehensive, holistic patient record and to the mobility of Veterans’ data, which is a fundamental component of choice. The National Capital Region Veteran Centered Care in the Community Pilot Project intends to address these challenges by providing a platform based approach to full spectrum personalized care for veterans through interoperability with community partners.

Once again, we would like to request further information regarding the allocation of the already approved funding to assign the required project managers and advance the implementation of the National Capital Region Veteran Centered Care in the Community Pilot Project. We appreciate your attention to this important matter, as well as your advocacy on behalf of our nation’s veterans. 

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner
U.S. Senator

Tim Kaine
U.S. Senator

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