The Department of Veterans Affairs is notifying veterans who receive their medical care at VA health facilities that VA will soon start sharing that health information with doctors they may see outside the VA, without notifying them first.

VA is sending letters to veterans’ homes notifying them of the change. Under the 2018 VA Mission Act, the department is working to ensure that VA physicians and non-VA medical providers can access a veteran’s health care information in order to treat them.

Veterans currently opt into the VA’s health record file sharing agreement. But with the change, they will be have to opt out, using a VA Form 10-10164, which they can download from the VA’s web site and mail or complete at the Release of Information Department in the VA facility where they receive care.

“The Mission Act gives veterans greater access to care, whether at VA facilities or in the community,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a news release. “We are providing seamless access to care, improving efficiency and helping to ensure veterans get the care they need, where and when they need it.”

The Veterans Heath Information Exchange will give providers access to laboratory results, medications, health history and illnesses, allergies, and occupational health information for veterans who also are VA employees.

“This electronic exchange of information improves patient safety — particularly during emergency situations — and allows for improved care coordination for veterans receiving care in the community,” the release said.

Veterans should receive a notification of the change in a letter from VA. In the letter, VA promises it will not sell any veteran’s health information and only will share information with community medical providers and “organizations that have partnership agreements with VA and are part of VA’s approved trusted network.”

Also according to the letter, those who are enrolled in VA health care or are eligible to enroll were to receive the notice, but others may have gotten it as well.

“You may have received this notice even if you are ineligible for VA health care benefits,” the letter states.

The Mission Act consolidated VA’s numerous community care programs and gave veterans access to a network of non-VA urgent care facilities for acute or non-emergency illnesses.

According to VA regulations published after the Mission Act’s expansion, veterans who live more than 30 minutes from a VA medical center or clinic or who face a wait of 20 days or more for primary care appointments are eligible to seek care in the community.

Roughly a third of all medical appointments for veterans enrolled in VA health care take place at non-VA facilities. According to VA, that figure has remained steady in the past several years.

VA will begin file sharing in January 2020. Veterans who previously restricted what information VA shared by using a restriction request form, VA Form 10-0525, will need to fill out the new form if they want to opt out entirely.

Others who previously opted out do not need to resubmit a form.

Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.

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