The Department of Veterans Affairs and contractor Oracle Cerner said Wednesday that the department’s electronic health record modernization (EHRM) initiative is likely to be resumed again in the summer of 2024 after taking a pause to course-correct the problem-ridden system’s rollout earlier this year.
“In the summer of 2024, we should be having, and even before that we should be having real discussions about whether we’re ready to move forward with [the EHRM] restart,” Dr. Neil Evans, acting program executive director of the VA’s EHRM Office, said during a House Appropriations Oversight hearing on implementation of the VA’s EHRM initiative with Oracle Cerner.
The VA partnered with Oracle Cerner in 2018 to lead the development and implementation of its EHR modernization under a 10-year, $16 billion contract. But since then, the program has faced a number of significant challenges, some of which have reportedly brought harm to veterans. This led to bipartisan congressional criticism of the program and, ultimately, the decision in April by the VA to stop the rollout of the system at veteran hospitals until major patient safety issues are remediated.
The VA also renegotiated its contract with Oracler Cerner in a way that it believes “dramatically increases” its ability to hold the technology company to account for the system’s performance.
Speaking at Wednesday’s hearing, Mike Sicilia, executive vice president at Oracle, said: “I would concur with Dr. Evans’s time frame. It seems to me next summer we should be in a position, particularly if the go-live is trending well in March, that we should be in a position to resume [the rollout]. That is our expectation.”
VA Secretary Denis McDonough will next year make the final decision regarding the EHR rollout timeframe, according to Evans and Sicilia.
The VA currently uses the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) EHR system in almost all of its VA hospitals. The modernized EHR system was delivered to five VA facilities before the department halted its nationwide rollout. VistA has faced its own issues including a lack of interoperability and nationwide access for veterans who change hospitals or move between states.
Evans also said there are major issues in having two different EHR systems operating within the VA rather than one central, functioning EHR system.
“I wake up every day wondering are we moving in this direction? We don’t want to stay in reset forever. In fact, I would argue that we’re at higher risk the longer we maintain a healthcare system that’s running two different electronic healthcare systems. So we need to feel an urgency to move forward with a single electronic health record system,” he said.
Multiple members of Congress expressed strong frustration during the hearing that the VA and Oracle Cerner were not moving fast enough with improvements to the EHR system while spending billions in taxpayer dollars.
“$10 billion dollars of taxpayer dollars. What the hell has that gotten us? What if we cut funding? What if next year it was zero? Would that light a fire in terms of fixing this program?” said Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas.