The VA is delaying further installations of its EHR system to address technical issues found within the software

VA to delay further installations of modernized EHR by at least six months

July 28, 2021
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
The Department of Veterans Affairs is holding off on further deployments of its new EHR system following a number of issues uncovered at the first go-live site in Spokane, Washington.

The U.S. agency announced this week that it will not install the system anywhere for the next six months and will instead focus its time on addressing a strategic review which found training failures, data migration problems and concerns over patient safety at the initial go-live site of Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, according to Federal News Network.

“The hope is, for example, when we finally get to a second deployment, that it goes a lot more smoothly than Mann-Grandstaff, but it probably won’t be flawless. We will learn from that and continue to improve,” said Carolyn Clancy, VA’s assistant undersecretary for health for discovery, education and affiliate networks, on Wednesday before the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

A work in progress since May 2018, the system went live for the first time in October 2020. The review was initiated in March in response to concerns from employees at Mann-Grandstaff. In addition to the technical issues uncovered, it recommended a new governance and organization structure, as well as a new cost estimate and deployment schedule.

While the department believes it will have a new deployment schedule by the end of 2021, the delay and issues plaguing the EHR system have frustrated members of Congress.

“I’m not interested in shoveling more money into a flawed program just to keep the paychecks flowing,” Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), ranking member of the technology modernization subcommittee, said at Wednesday’s meeting in front of both VA employees and representatives from Cerner, the lead contractor on the project.

Rosendale criticized the department and company for not being able to make headway on the situation in Spokane. “If the army of crackerjack management consultants, and the tiger teams, and the advancement teams, and the adoption coaches and the change management experts cannot make headway with the situation in Spokane, then the reason is probably pretty simple. The software just isn’t any good, folks. Either that, or it isn’t good for the VA.”

Last month, the department came under scrutiny for underestimating the cost of infrastructure updates for the system by as much as $2.6 billion. It said it had not understood the actual needs of its facilities and will spend the next year working with the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to improve planning and coordination.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough promised senators at a hearing the week before that the department was confident it could address the system’s flaws. It also will review the state of physical and IT infrastructure leadership, staffing, and other factors at each of its facilities to ensure they are prepared for the EHR sooner rather than later. In addition, it will be “starting from scratch” on a new, independent life cycle cost estimate for the EHR modernization project, a plan which committee members welcomed. The estimate may take another year to finish, according to Clancy, who acknowledged during the meeting that the system was not ready to go live last October.

“From my conversations with the leadership of OEHRM (Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization), they believed that it was important not to keep delaying the initial deployment, that we would learn a great deal, and they didn’t expect it to go well,” she said, adding “I would have to surmise that they believed that we should get on with it and learn more, because this is how we actually deploy systems like this on the ground.”

Patients safety teams are currently working away at the system to resolve its challenges. The VA did not explain its new governance structure, which will manage the EHR project going forward, but did reveal that it has appointed Donald Remy as permanent VA Deputy Secretary.

Remy is currently being briefed on the new management structure and will have a “far more active role than some of my predecessors,” according to Clancy.

The VA told HCB News that it is "unable to comment at this time" on what its next steps are, as it is still trying to determine the best course of action.