New app to give VA doctors instant patient information


The Veterans Affairs Department is testing an application it hopes will give clinicians anytime, anywhere access to patient data.The app, known as the iHealth adaptor, is being tested on Apple iPads at the Washington VA Medical Center. Under the three-month pilot, which began in August, clinicians test and document their ability to use the devices to connect to VA's network, view patients' health information, access secure email and merge their personal and work calendars, said Dr. Deyne Bentt, assistant chief of anesthesiology at the Washington hospital.

"The bigger benefit is that you can reliably deliver the information that a clinician needs ... at the point of care," said Dr. Neil Evans, associate chief of staff for informatics and co-chairman of primary care at the hospital.

Evans and Bentt are the lead physicians working with information technology company Agilex to develop and test the app.

The iHealth adaptor looks similar to other applications on an iPad screen — small and square-shaped — but it provides a portal that connects to VA's electronic repository of health data. Physicians can retrieve patients' laboratory results and contact information from remote locations.

For example, if a patient's abnormal lab results indicate the need for immediate medical attention, the physician can quickly view past and current lab tests, contact the patient and schedule follow-up care.

Today, the process is cumbersome, Evans said. "I have to sit on the phone with a technician," wait until the technician logs onto a computer and then ask the technician questions about a patient's medication and past lab results, he said.

Nurse practitioners, social workers, physicians and others who visit homebound patients could also benefit from the mobile app. The app allows clinicians to access electronic health records en route, rather than waiting to access them on a laptop at the patient's home.

Bedside care at VA hospitals would also be enhanced by the iPad, Evans said. Some patients need visual examples to understand what doctors are saying about their health, and colorful graphics on the device's 7-inch screen could easily display lab results, medications and information about upcoming medical procedures.

Doctors can tuck the 1-pound tablet computers in their medical coats and easily share data with patients.

VA's iHealth adaptor can be used on a range of mobile devices — including BlackBerrys.

"VA is far more advanced in health IT than the rest of the country in terms of being able to share data and have common standards," said Vince Kuraitis, a principal at consulting company Better Health Technologies LLC.

"Health care today is mostly thousands of apps that don't connect," Kuraitis said. It's likely a physician doesn't see the data or it doesn't come from a patient's electronic health record, he said. "It's whatever the patient can do with that app and their data as opposed to what the whole care team could do with that data if the app was integrated" into an electronic health record.

Kuraitis also highlighted the Health and Human Services Department's Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) as an example of progressive health IT practices.

ONC is working with VA, the Defense Department and private sector to create common standards for secure exchange of health information over the Internet. In June, ONC began launching "challenges" that offer developers monetary prizes for building health applications and software solutions.

Wil Yu, special assistant for innovation and research at ONC, said mobile health is opening new doors.

An ONC challenge launched last month asks developers to create an application that gives a patient an electronic discharge checklist before he leaves the hospital. The app must use ONC data-sharing standards for exchanging information with doctors, pharmacists, nurses and other professionals, according to

"We really see information as the lifeblood of medicine," Yu said.


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