Lawmakers look to keep close tabs on VA's health record switch

A bipartisan quartet of lawmakers introduced legislation that would compel the Department of Veterans Affairs to document how it plans to implement its new electronic health record system.

Shutterstock image: checking documents.
 

A bipartisan quartet of lawmakers from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs announced legislation that would compel the Department of Veterans Affairs to hand over key records for how it plans to implement its new electronic health record system.

In a statement, committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) called the bill “essential legislation that will give Congress additional tools to carry out effective oversight of this challenging undertaking.”

In June 2017, VA Secretary David Shulkin announced that the department would be scrapping its electronic health records system and adopting the same commercial software solution used by the Department of Defense and developed by contractor Cerner. At the time, officials said the move to a common system would streamline the storage and exchange of patient data across both departments.

The bill, sponsored by Roe and Reps. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), sets a series of deadlines for the department to provide documentation to Congress on how it plans to implement and manage the transition to the new system. The law would require VA to turn over 15 specific documents related to its e-health records system within 30 days, including the integrated master plan and schedule, data migration and security plans as well as cost estimates for elements like hardware, software and contractor labor. The bill also would compel VA officials to keep Congress in the loop about any new contracts, schedule delays, loss of data or data breaches associated with the system.

Bergman, who chairs the committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee, said that while the VA has “made strides” in transparency to Congress, the panel wants to ensure that the planning and transition from the old system to the new goes smoothly.

“It is well known that large IT modernization projects, particularly those in government, often encounter significant problems. It’s also no secret that VA has a poor track record of keeping Congress informed regarding its modernization efforts,” Bergman said.

Two months after announcing the sole-source agreement with Cerner, VA was sued by another e-health records contractor, CliniComp, who argued that lack of adequate planning on the part of VA officials did not constitute a public interest emergency that would allow the department to sidestep the competitive bidding process. That lawsuit was dismissed in October.

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