Carnegie Mellon: HealtheVet ailing

A Carnegie Mellon report gave the Department of Veterans Affairs failing grades for the HealtheVet program, adding that the plan to spend billions to modernize the health care computer system for 5 million veterans has unacceptably high risks.

"Current plans are not realistic given the complexity and magnitude of [HealtheVet] and the VA's ability to carry them out," states the report commissioned by the VA.

Conclusions of the study were first reported today by the St. Petersburg Times, which cited estimates that the VA modernization program would cost $3.5 billion.

The report, which was delivered to the VA's executives in February, could be a major blow to the department’s plan to modernize its computer system nationwide and develop electronic health records for every veteran in the system. In his fiscal 2006 budget proposal, President Bush earmarked $311 million to help develop the program.

But the report, also made available to Federal Computer Week, cited many problems. "Staying the course" will fail to deliver the project, the document states.

HealtheVet has neither a viable architecture nor a documented road map to get an operational system in place by 2010, the study's authors found. Plans to incorporate the VA's Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture program for electronic records "do not scale or provide the needed maturity," according to the report.

Intended to upgrade information technology for the 170-hospital VA health system, the program lacks a clear vision, Carnegie Mellon researchers found. Officials do not know enough about the necessary large scale system integration or proposed technology products and standards, the report stated.

The study also blamed VA officials for ineffective decision-making and poor communication. "Many decisions are driven by unrealistic, subjective information," the document states.

Other findings:

• Officials lack an integrated HealtheVet program vision.

• Critical processes and procedures are frequently eliminated to meet deadlines.

• Management, technical and operational baselines are missing.

• Officials do not understand all change management and training that will be needed.

Carnegie Mellon researchers said VA officials must work harder to develop a framework to meet the program’s needs.

The tough report comes at a time when the VA is facing a major problem on Capitol Hill. The House Veterans Affairs Committee is recommending a $400 million cut in the proposed IT budget for the VA in 2006. And lawmakers are still investigating the failure of a $372 million financial management project called Core Financial and Logistics System in Bay Pines, Fla., as an example of the VA’s technology problems

Top VA officials were out of town at a retreat and unavailable for comment. But VA officials are expected to discuss HealtheVet program at a conference planned for VA program managers next week in Atlanta.


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