VA delays rollout of new electronic health record

The scheduled March 28 launch of the agency's $16 billion health record system is being pushed back at least until the end of April.

Department of Veterans Affairs (Photo: bakdc / Shutterstock)
 

The Department of Veterans Affairs is pushing back the key go-live date for its launch of the $16 billion commercial electronic health record modernization project at a Spokane, Wash., medical center.

VA had planned to flip the switch on the new system, based on Cerner Millennium software, on March 28 at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center. Because of delays on multiple fronts, that initial operating capability is likely to be pushed back at least until the end of April.

"After rigorous testing of our new EHR, the department will need more time to complete the system build and ensure clinicians and other users are properly trained on it," VA spokesperson Christina Mandreucci told FCW in an emailed statement. "We believe we are 75-80 percent complete in this regard and will be announcing a revised 'go-live' schedule in the coming weeks."

According to a source who had been briefed on the matter, the configuration for the Cerner health record is still incomplete. Interfaces between Cerner, VA's existing Vista electronic health record system and VA's IT infrastructure are still being developed, and that work has proven to be more of a slog than had been hoped. Additionally, VA was faced with the prospect of training Spokane employees on an unfinished system – so the agency opted to cancel scheduled training.

The news is not a big surprise to lawmakers tracking the project, although department officials and contractors hadn't notified lawmakers or staff of delays in recent briefings. Members of Congress from both parties have urged VA to be deliberate in its schedule and incur delays rather than rolling out incomplete or untested software, and appeared to buy into VA Secretary Robert Wilkie's decision to delay the launch.

"VA should take the time it needs to get this $16 billion dollar implementation right, but it needs to be transparent with Congress," said Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. "We are all charged to work on behalf of our nation’s veterans -- a short term delay is far better than rushing through a critical EHR transition that will strongly impact veterans’ lives."

"With a project as complex, costly, and impactful as this one, the worst thing VA could do is jump the gun. We applaud VA for recognizing that more training and preparation is needed and taking the time to get this right," Reps. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) said in a joint statement emailed late on Monday. "We applaud VA for recognizing that more training and preparation is needed and taking the time to get this right." Roe is the committee's ranking member and Banks is the top Republican on HVAC's IT modernization subcommittee.

The VA's move comes a week after the abrupt dismissal of Jim Byrne, the former deputy secretary and the official charged with oversight of the electronic health record project. Asked about the status of the project at a Feb. 5 press conference, Wilkie said that Byrne's firing "will not impact it at all."

VA requested $2.6 billion for the electronic health record modernization project in its fiscal year 2021 budget request, made public on Feb. 10. That's up from $1.5 billion in the year previous. The increase includes an additional $840 million in infrastructure readiness, up from $341 million in the previous year. There's also a $62 million hike in program management support to total $255 million.

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