Veterans Affairs

Senators urge VA to lean on DOD in health record push

Shutterstock image: medical professional interacting with a futuristic, digital interface. 

The chairmen of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Armed Services committees hope the Department of Veterans Affairs will learn from the Pentagon's commercial health record deal.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin recently announced plans to buy from Cerner, the commercial software provider used by the Department of Defense in its MHS Genesis system, on a sole-source basis. DOD paid $4.3 billion for software and implementation services from Cerner, Leidos and Accenture. The VA deal is expected to cost much more, due to the larger size of the VA's health system.

In a June 26 letter, Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) urged Shulkin to lean on the Pentagon for advice as they advance plans to procure and implement a commercial electronic health records system from Cerner. Isakson and McCain were joined in the letter by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who represents Cerner's home state, and who is a Senate sponsor of the Modernizing Government Technology Act.

"Recently, major federal IT infrastructure upgrades and overhauls have not had overwhelming success," the three wrote. "We remain optimistic about the VA's EHR transition; however, we hold great concern that the scope of this project brings several risks related to excess costs and implementation delays. We implore the VA to work with DOD's experts to adopt any lessons learned and best practices from DOD's recent experience with [MHS Genesis] implementation. We cannot afford any mistakes on this project, as it has immense implications for the future of the VA and the proper care of our millions of veterans."

To some extent, Shulkin is already taking the advice offered by the three senators. In several public discussions of the shift from VA's homegrown Vista system to the commercial system, Shulkin has pledged to seek guidance from DOD and to learn from its procurement. Indeed, Shulkin cited the more than two years it took for DOD to procure its electronic health record as a key reason why he is going the sole-source route.

The senators want details from Shulkin on the timeline, milestones, interoperability and policy barriers, as well as VA's plans for reengineering and standardizing business processes to accommodate a commercial-off-the-shelf software system. Additionally, they want assurances that VA will take steps to prevent "excessive customization" of the software that could serve as a barrier to uniformity and interoperability.

There's no specified deadline for Shulkin to respond.

Correction: Christopher Miller is no longer detailed to VA on the commercial health record procurement, as was previously stated in this article.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Tue, Jul 4, 2017

Yes, follow DoD's lead, that's a great idea if you're a congressman. Learn your history congress, DoD has all the cash in the world to convert to new EHRs whenever they wish, get ready for the VA to have the same shopping desires. As long as our big brother is shopping with us, I suppose congress will have to resist their temptation to complain about budgets. And what's really funny is the VA can now spend ridiculous sums of money to implement a system that'll track which non-VA place the veteran chooses to get their healthcare from. If tax payers only knew the truth.

Tue, Jun 27, 2017 Good Money after Bad

"we hold great concern that the scope of this project brings several risks related to excess costs and implementation delays. We implore the VA to work with DOD's experts" ... whose project is already beset by excess costs and implementation delays.

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