Lawmakers press VA officials on EHR modernization, workforce

Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs touted progress on the agency's long-term electronic health records modernization, but appropriators still have concerns about the multi-billion-dollar project.

Department of Veterans Affairs (Photo: bakdc / Shutterstock)
 

Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs touted progress on the agency's 10-year, $16 billion electronic health records modernization push, but appropriators still have concerns about the multi-billion-dollar project.

At a Feb. 26 House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) called achieving interoperability with the Department of Defense's health records system "this committee's top priority."

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) called the cost and length of the project "outrageous." The $16 billion includes a $10 billon contract with Cerner and $6 billion in infrastructure upgrades and project management support.

At the hearing, Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, testified that VA's 131 unique versions of Vista, the VA's homegrown EHR management system, is slowing down the integration. Stone also said that Cerner has mapped all of the data from all the different versions for the transition.

"This is not simply about bringing an electronic medical record to life," he said. "This is about moving from a highly disjointed system without data integration to one that is fully data-integrated and therefore interoperable."

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie admitted the department has "had hiccups" in the testing of the system. "But we should have hiccups," he said.

Hurd said this was "probably the first time I've ever been encouraged" by progress on the project.

"Once you map the data, having this move from one system to another should be quick," he said. "Now it's about … how can you take some of that data that's probably localized and put it into the cloud? That transition, depending on the size of the dataset you're dealing with, may take some time."

Hurd said that his next questions for VA concern specifics on the timeline for implementation.

"They've identified the problem, they're rectifying their problem, they should be able to understand how long it will take to rectify that problem," he said. "I can't give a time, but I know it can be done in less than 10 years."

VA vacancies

Democrats voiced concerns about the impacts of the Trump administration's changes on federal agency workforce rules as well as the thousands of job vacancies throughout the VA.

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) raised  issues about the implementation of the VA Accountability Act, passed in June 2017 to make it easier for the agency to fire employees. She questioned an "overzealous interpretation" of the law that lacks quantitative measures of personnel performance and "negatively impacts veterans."

Wasserman Schultz also mentioned concerns about the persisting vacancies at the VA, noting that 17 percent of leadership positions -- including the deputy secretary and the undersecretary of health -- that oversee the health record modernization are occupied by acting officials.

Given the roughly 45,000 total vacancies at the VA, Wilkie testified, "I'd be lying to you if I said I'd fill them all." Instead, he said he would instead focus on filling positions "where we have the greatest need," noting that the Senate recently confirmed James Gfrerer as assistant secretary of information and technology.

Also on the workforce front, Wilkie said that the agency had implemented the executive order to curtail official time, calling the previous policy a "disservice to veterans." Federal unions have sued the Trump administration over this move.

NEXT STORY: FAS looks to tech transformation

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.