VA’s Dicey Rollout of Electronic Health Record Program Sees Slow Recovery
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is continuing the rollout of the electronic health record modernization program, despite 14 reports from the Inspector General’s Office revealing a number of patient safety issues at the five sites where the system has been deployed thus far.
“Patient safety remains our number one priority. We have worked aggressively, focusing on patient safety during the difficult transition,” said Randal Noller, public affairs officer at the VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, in an email to The Well News.
In 2018, the VA entered a 10-year, $10 billion contract with Cerner, one of the largest suppliers of health information technology services, devices and hardware, to establish the program by 2028.
The program was launched to electronically store health information and track patient care within VA facilities out of a pilot site in October 2020 at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington.
“Since then, I have heard even more concerns from the staff on the ground in Spokane about how this faulty system is making their jobs unacceptably difficult,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is a senior member of the Senate VA Committee, during a hearing on July 20.
Murray said that recent data provided by the VA shows there have been 24 outages and 48 performance incident degradations, but an internal document leaked to The Spokesman-Review on July 19 shows there have been more than 180 incidents classified as degradations since September 2021.
“There seems to be a huge discrepancy between what the VA is publicly saying and how many are reported,” said Murray.
Murray said veterans she’s spoken to have reported issues such as getting the wrong medication or not having their medication stocked.
“VA cannot roll out this system anywhere else in Washington state, until the issues with this system are resolved,” said Murray.
There are two EHR sites scheduled to launch in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, on Aug. 27.
“[Department of Defense] and VA are in very different situations. This is really hard work. The VA has had a system for almost 40 years that people were used to, and was created by physicians and frontline providers,” said Terry Adirim, who serves as program executive director of the VA’s EHR Modernization Integration Office.
The Institute for Defense Analysis has estimated that implementation of the VA’s EHR program over 13 years would cost nearly $39 billion, and sustainment $17 billion dollars.
All together that is $40 billion over the cost estimate the VA has been operating under, said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., during the hearing.
The VA has completed deployments in five sites so far, but is still far away from hitting the benchmarks previously set.
Adirim said it might take one to two more years than the initial target date of 2028 to finish the entire launch.
“This is going to be a huge lift for us to help our frontline providers to use a new and more modern system. It’s a very different system,” said Adirim.
“We need to have contingency plans because there’s been a couple of periods where we needed to move the schedule,” continued Adirim.
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