VA to undertake strategic review of EHR modernization program

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Friday that it would be undertaking a strategic review of its Cerner electronic health record modernization program.  

The review, consisting of a full assessment of the ongoing EHR modernization program, will not exceed 12 weeks.  

“A successful EHR deployment is essential in the delivery of lifetime, world-class health care for our veterans,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough.   

“Our dedicated VA professionals continue to work feverishly on this effort even as we maneuver through the complexities and surges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said McDonough.  

WHY IT MATTERS  

The VA’s EHR modernization project has faced numerous delays since its official sign-on with Cerner in 2018.  

In August of last year, its first component went live at VA Central Ohio Healthcare System in Columbus, Ohio.   

But after the October rollout at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, stakeholders raised concerns.

Last week, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, wrote a letter to McDonough outlining the complaints she had heard about the new system and asking him to investigate.  

“The system is not an improvement, at least not yet,” McMorris Rodgers wrote. “It has put new stress on the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, which is a vital lifeline for so many of our veterans and has struggled with staffing and morale for several years,” she added.  

In her letter, McMorris Rodgers described problems with veterans not receiving their prescriptions when needed, or getting the wrong ones.   

“I have one report of a VA doctor ordering a veteran two medications, but he received 15 erroneous medications,” she wrote. 

McMorris Rodgers also noted problems with the Cerner patient portal, which she described as “less functional” than the old VA patient portal.  

She cited the added stress the EHR issues were creating for clinicians. “Nurses who go to work every day to serve our veterans should not be driven to tears because software, which was intended to be an improvement, makes their jobs more difficult,” she wrote.  

In its announcement, the VA said that the review would trigger a schedule shift. Although Columbus is scheduled to remain the next “go-live” site, the agency said, the order of subsequent deployments may be revised.  

The review will focus on identifying areas for additional productivity and clinical workflow optimization at Mann-Grandstaff and upcoming “go-live” sites. It will involve conducting further research into patient portal experience, data syndication and revenue cycle improvements.

“After a rigorous review of our most-recent deployment at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, it is apparent that a strategic review is necessary,” said McDonough.   

“VA remains committed to the Cerner Millennium solution, and we must get this right for veterans,” he continued.  

“I am encouraged to see Secretary McDonough respond swiftly to my calls for review of the broken electronic health record system that has caused new stress on veterans and VA staff in Eastern Washington,” said McMorris Rodgers on Friday

“This decision was the right one, and I’m hopeful we can work together towards our common goal of improving the lives of our veterans,” she said.  

“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. 

“Our number one priority remains the Veterans we serve and delivering solutions that drive the transformation of care across the VA,” Sandager added.  

THE LARGER TREND  

The COVID-19 crisis threw a spanner into the already slow-moving works of the Cerner EHR rollout at the VA, with the agency announcing in April 2020 that it was hitting pause on the project.  

Although the VA had said in February 2020 that it aimed to have the Mann-Grandstaff rollout live in July, the complications presented by the novel coronavirus meant that it didn’t happen until October – and the latest strategic review will likely complicate things further.  

ON THE RECORD  

“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,” said Cerner’s Sandager in a statement.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: kjercich@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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