VA Creates Special Office to Direct $16B Health Record Overhaul

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The House Veterans Affairs Committee also unveiled the lawmakers who will track the project from its new subcommittee.

The Veterans Affairs Department on Thursday announced it established a special office to make sure the agency’s multibillion electronic health record digitization effort stays on track.

The Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization, which launched last month, is responsible for managing the preparation, rollout and upkeep of the new medical record platform. The office will be headed by Genevieve Morris, who previously served as principal deputy national coordinator for health IT at the Health and Human Services Department.

After wasting more than $1 billion in six years on failed attempts to overhaul its outdated EHR system, VA in May awarded Cerner Corp. a 10-year, $10 billion deal to put the agency on the same platform as the Defense Department. On top of that, VA expects to spend nearly $6 billion on infrastructure upgrades. The rollout is scheduled to begin in October and hit full operating capability by March 2020. In the meantime, VA will spend about $1 billion per year to keep its old system, VistA, up and running.

“OEHRM, the Veterans Health Administration and the Office of Information and Technology will continue to collaborate closely to ensure this important transition is as smooth as possible for our veterans, clinicians and staff,” Morris said in a statement. “We are working hard to configure and design a system focused on quality, safety and patient outcomes, which will allow health IT innovations within one VA facility to be used across the entire VA healthcare system.”

The new office comes as the most recent attempt to increase oversight on a project lawmakers and government officials are viewing with skepticism.

Officials hoped the overhaul would enable seamless sharing of patient records between the two agencies, but the project has come under increased scrutiny after the Pentagon’s own testing determined the system was “neither operationally effective nor operationally suitable.”

The House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday also announced which of its lawmakers will serve as on its new oversight subcommittee, which will keep a close eye on the modernization project.

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., will chair the subcommittee and Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., will serve as ranking member. They will be joined by Reps. Jack Bergman, R-Mich., Mike Coffman, R-Colo., and Scott Peters, D-Calif.

While lawmakers have reaffirmed their support for the IT overhaul, they’ve repeatedly stressed the need for VA to keep them up to speed on its progress.

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