VA Pilots Digital Medical Record Retrieval

A contractor will collect, scan, and transmit private healthcare records with the goal of speeding Veterans Affairs' claims decisions.

Slideshow: African Hospital Digitizes Medical Records
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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced that it will work with a private contractor to speed claims decisions and significantly reduce the average time needed to obtain medical records from private physicians.

The department updated veterans on the progress of the VA Claims Transformation Plan on Monday, noting that one of the pilot projects it's conducting can significantly improve the efficiency of the claims processing system as well as help the department to meet its goal of processing all claims within 125 days and with 98% accuracy by 2015.

According to Eric Shinseki, secretary of Veterans Affairs, innovations that will speed, simplify, or improve VA's services are being rigorously tested.

"We are committed to harnessing the best technology and the brightest minds in the government and private sector to ensure veterans receive the benefits they have earned," Shinseki said.

One innovation is using a private contractor to assist VA in collecting healthcare records. When private medical records are used to support a veteran's application for benefits, a contractor will quickly retrieve the records from the healthcare provider, scan them into a digital format, and send the material to VA through a secure transmission.

This pilot project hopes to validate initial estimates that a specialized contract can yield records in seven to 10 days instead of VA's average 40 days. According to the VA, the contractor will help the VA staff focus on core duties to process claims more quickly.

Exploring economical contract support for time savings is one of more than three dozen initiatives supporting VA's claims transformation plan. The need to overhaul the VA's claims processing systems has arisen as the department has, over the past five years, experienced a significant increase in disability compensation claims. The VA said it anticipates another 60% increase in compensation claims over the next five years.

VA officials emphasized that, in all cases, veterans must sign documents approving the release of their medical records to the department from private healthcare providers.

The test is expected to involve about 60,000 records requests among regional benefits offices in Phoenix; New York City; St. Louis; Portland, Ore.; Chicago; Anchorage, Alaska; Indianapolis, and Jackson, Miss. At the conclusion of the test, VA officials will decide whether to cancel, modify, or expand any changes in procedures nationwide.