VA Prepping for Go-Live of Health Records System in March


Veterans Affairs Department officials testified they’re continuing with plans to roll out their new electronic health record system in early 2020.

The Veterans Affairs Department continues to move forward with its plan to debut a new electronic health records platform, developed by Cerner, in March despite some concerns from lawmakers.

VA is in the process of adding full-time equivalent employees to properly staff up for the much-anticipated rollout, scheduled for March 28 at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington.

“The augmentation plan is under execution now,” said Dr. Robert Fischer, director of Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, during a hearing held by the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on Technology Modernization.

Fischer said the medical center had hired “about 50%” of the 108 full-time equivalents necessary and is “continuing to recruit” leading up to the launch. The launch itself will be an initial rollout of some Cerner capabilities, not its final product. Nonetheless, as they have repeatedly done, lawmakers voiced concern over a lack of governance structure between VA and the Defense Department, which is also rolling out a Leidos and Cerner-built electronic health records system. The systems are designed to be interoperable, meaning health records from active-duty service members will be available to VA clinicians once they transition to life as veterans.

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., the subcommittee’s ranking member, warned VA officials to “seriously consider taking additional time” if issues arise in the coming months. Chairwoman Susie Lee, D-NV, asked several VA officials whether they would express concerns to leadership—should concerns arise—in the mounting pressure to launch on time. Each, including VA Deputy Secretary James Byrne—the highest-ranking VA official at the hearing—answered in the affirmative.

“I’ve not had that specific discussion with the Secretary about it, it has not ripened yet,” Byrne said. “It’ll be one of the two of us making the final decision and we’re both accountable in the end.”

John Windom, executive director of VA’s Office of Electronic Health Records Modernization, said officials from VA’s headquarters, medical centers and technical staff are in regular communication. Whether the decision is to proceed with rollout or delay, Windom said it “won’t be a decision that surprises any of us.”