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VA, Indian Health Services Push IT Interoperability

Agencies will share resources to boost care for American Indian and Alaska Native veterans.

Slideshow: Wireless Telehealth Brings Medical Help To Those In Need
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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that aims to help both agencies improve the quality of healthcare for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) veterans. The agreement relies heavily on health IT, as both agencies embark on a new plan to enhance coordination, collaboration, and resource sharing.

Tuesday's announcement offered details of a plan that promises to commit both agencies to the goals of improving the quality of healthcare and services, promoting patient-centered collaboration, establishing effective partnerships, and improving health promotion and disease prevention services to American Indians and Alaska Natives as they address community-based wellness.

"This memorandum of understanding is a renewal of the important partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service. It represents VA's commitment to American Indian and Alaska Native veterans through associations with the Indian Health Service and tribal facilities throughout the nation," VA secretary Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement. "The partnership further expands VA's capability to serve those veterans within their communities and provides increased access for veterans in extremely rural areas."

Yvette Roubideaux, IHS director, said the agreement provides a firm foundation for collaboration to meet the needs of the AI/AN veterans who have served our nation. "It is an important step forward in our work to better serve all American Indian and Alaska Native people," she said in a statement.

To achieve their goals, the MOU outlines plans for information sharing, as well as provides details on how both agencies will use electronic health records (EHRs) and telehealth technologies. The areas of technological collaboration and coordination include:

-- To improve co-management and coordination of care for AI/AN veterans served by the VA or IHS, tribal, or urban Indian health programs, providers will have access to patient EHRs regardless of whether the systems reside with the VA or IHS. This will apply to patients receiving care in both systems.

-- To improve care through the development of health IT, both agencies will share technology; develop applications and technologies; adapt applications and technologies developed by one agency to permit use by the other; develop mechanisms for the exchange of funds to support this adaptation and sharing; and provide interoperability of systems to facilitate sharing of information on common patients and populations.

-- To enhance access through the development and implementation of new models of care using new technologies, both agencies will use telehealth services, such as tele-psychiatry and tele-pharmacy; employ mobile communication technologies, including enhancing telecommunications infrastructure to support collaboration in remote areas; and share training programs and materials.

Both agencies also noted that the agreement will address joint emergency, disaster, and pandemic preparedness and response planning. Implementation work groups will be established to address each of the main goals outlined in the MOU. An annual progress report will be produced by the VA and the IHS.

The MOU expands the partnership initially established through a previous MOU in 2003 that improved communication between the agencies and tribal governments, and developed strategies for sharing information, services, and IT.

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