VA pauses Cerner EHR implementation — again — amid COVID-19

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is further delaying the implementation of a multibillion dollar Cerner EHR system to funnel more resources into managing the coronavirus outbreak surging in the United States.
  • VA Secretary Robert Wilkie wrote in a Friday letter to Congress that the agency’s “priority is the care of veterans and providing surge capabilities for civilian healthcare systems.” 
  • Wilkie has directed the Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization, which oversees the effort, to pivot to a “non-intrusive posture” with VA providers as their medical centers reallocate staff to areas hardest hit by COVID-19.

Dive Insight:

The VA, the nation’s largest healthcare provider, remains committed to the project, Wilkie said. But it’s the second major delay in the project in 2020 so far, and follows other snags since May 2018, when the VA inked the multibillion dollar contract with Cerner.

The Department of Defense, which is co-developing the new software system with the VA, also delayed the rollout of its EHR, called MHS Genesis, last week due to concerns about the virulent outbreak that has infected more than 350,000 people and killed more than 10,300 in the U.S. so far.

The VA’s first postponement this year came in February following concerns from some users of the new Cerner system at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington. The massive project to replace the agency’s more than four-decade-old VistA medical records system has proved stop-and-go for most of the past few years as spending snowballed on the implementation from $10 billion to roughly $16 billion, with little concrete to show for it.

Cerner supports the VA’s decision to halt work on the new EHR, spokesperson Austin Cozzolino told Healthcare Dive.

“Cerner is actively working with VA to reassess and revise deployment timelines while pushing forward on critical elements of the program,” Cozzolino said via email.

Despite the delay, the Mann-Grandstaff EHR is now more than 99% complete, Wilkie told Congress in his letter. VA has completed​ interface design, build, connectivity and technical testing for all 72 interfaces required to support go-live for the EHR and finished 99% of clinician training on the system.

Additionally, Wilkie promised the VA and DoD would be interoperable as soon as possible, helping the two agencies exchange data at a moment when easy communication between federal agencies is pivotal to coordinating the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response.

“Joint Health Information Exchange between VA and DoD remains on track for activation and delivery at the end of April 2020,” Wilkie wrote to House and Senate leaders. The decision comes as VA hospitals have been criticized for their preparedness for COVID-19, with the Office of the Inspector General alleging in a recent report that though a majority of VA facilities can conduct swab tests for the virus, they don’t have the capabilities to screen samples on-site, and a handful don’t have a readiness plan in place.

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