VA Launches VITAL Training Ahead of First Electronic Health Records Rollout

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Veterans Affairs officials learned some lessons from their Defense Department counterparts and developed an immersive training program focused on how the new EHR system can fix issues clinicians encounter every day.

Over the next year to year-and-a-half, 76 Veterans Affairs Department staff working at medical facilities across the country will participate in an immersive training program on the agency’s evolving electronic health records program.

The new training regimen—dubbed the VA Innovative Technology Advancement Lab, or VITAL—will focus on how clinicians and front-office staff can use the department’s new EHR system to solve problems in real-world contexts.

VA has been working with its contractor, Cerner Corp., to develop a customized EHR system that will modernize the health care delivered to some 23.5 million veterans while simultaneously creating an interoperable environment that will connect directly with a similar system being developed for the Defense Department, known as MHS GENESIS.

VA plans to begin rolling out the new system in the spring of 2020. However, learning from initial issues with the deployment of MHS GENESIS, VA has opted to create a new training ecosystem to ensure its employees are ready for the transition. Along with the need for focused training, VA officials looked at the MHS GENESIS rollout and realized “the importance of excusing training participants from clinical responsibilities during training sessions and related responsibilities,” according to a VA fact sheet.

The VITAL program kicked off last week with the selection of 76 initial participants, which include “key clinical and frontline staff who require advanced training to ensure smooth EHR modernization implementation, enhance functionality and support continuous performance improvement,” according to an announcement.

The first wave of trainees were chosen from 40 distinct point-of-care and support roles from the initial deployment sites: Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington; VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; and sites in Alaska, California, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Idaho that are part of the Veterans Integrated Service Network 20, or VISN 20.

The trainees will go through four three-day, in-person training sessions scheduled over the next 12 to 18 months. Participants will also engage in monthly virtual training sessions, or “checkpoints,” and will choose a “core capstone project” to work on throughout the program. The capstone projects will focus on “real-world problems encountered at the participants’ facilities,” with the goal of finding innovative solutions using the new EHR platform.

“Throughout the VITAL program, VA participants work in cooperation with each other and with senior Cerner experts to learn how to leverage [the electronic health records modernization program’s] existing capabilities and continuously improve an evolving system of tools and processes,” the fact sheet states.

The VITAL training program is one of several established to improve the EHR system rollout process. According to the fact sheet, the department is also offering end-user training at VA sites, which will include “instructor-led classes, eLearning modules” and “over-the-shoulder” training; super-user courses to provide training to staff that will lead the transition effort; and specialty training for unique user groups.