The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will pause the rollout of its Cerner electronic health record until it reviews the program and shares the results with Congress.
Agency officials told the House Subcommittee on Technology Modernization at a Wednesday hearing that they would not go live with the EHR at a second site before a strategic review announced this past month is completed.
“VA is committed, in partnership with the Department of Defense, to leading American healthcare forward, realizing the full promise of a modern, integrated record to cultivate the health and wellbeing of those we serve,” said Dr. Carolyn Clancy, acting deputy secretary at the VA, during the hearing.
“Cerner supports the decision by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a strategic program review,” said Brian Sandager, general manager of Cerner Government Services, in a statement to Healthcare IT News. “Our number-one priority remains the Veterans we serve and delivering solutions that drive the transformation of care across the VA.”
“We are proud of the significant milestones we have achieved, including one of the largest health data migrations in history and the deployment of a new joint Health Information Exchange between DOD, VA and their community partners,” Sandager added.
WHY IT MATTERS
The agency’s strategic review announcement came on the heels of its October EHR rollout at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington.
Complaints included prescription errors and unsatisfactory patient portal functionality, along with added stress for providers – in addition to, as reported at the hearing, more than 240 patient safety concerns.
“The system is not an improvement, at least not yet,” wrote Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., in a March letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough.
At the hearing on Wednesday, lawmakers expressed concern with the idea of continuing to roll out the EHR at the next scheduled go-live site in Columbus, Ohio.
“I’m sure you agree that the go-live at Mann-Grandstaff did not go as smoothly as we had all hoped,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif.
“Do I have your commitment not to start any Columbus go-live activities until after the strategic review has been completed and shared with this committee?” asked Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Montana.
“Yes,” answered Clancy. “You have that commitment.”
Clancy said a major part of the strategic review would be attempting to ensure the mistakes made would not be repeated. She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted the process, and “we will be learning a lot that we expect will be applied to Columbus and future go-live sites.”
“We intend not only to get this right, but to drive the whole industry forward,” said Clancy.
Sandager said during the hearing that Cerner supports the strategic review decision.
“It remains Cerner’s position that based on commercial standards and lessons learned from the DOD and clients around the world, VA is well positioned to continue deploying the new system.
“Having said that, I acknowledge there are real challenges that deserve our attention and our commitment to resolve,” he added.
THE LARGER TREND
The VA’s EHR modernization effort has faced numerous slowdowns.
Last April, it hit pause on the rollout at Mann-Grandstaff, saying the department wanted to prioritize care for veterans, before finally going live in October.
Still, the Biden administration is looking to support the project with more funding in the future, requesting $2.7 billion this past week for continued VA EHR modernization.
ON THE RECORD
“Cerner is honored to partner with the VA to deliver seamless care to millions of our nation’s veterans,” said Sandager at the hearing. “We owe it to them to get this right.”