Internal VA Email Calls Postponement of EHR Rollout to Boise ‘Part of the Process’ 

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The message to staff said that "more could be done" to streamline planned deployment of new health record software at Boise VA Medical Center.

The Veterans Affairs Department has indefinitely postponed its planned rollout of the Oracle Cerner Millennium electronic health record system at the Boise VA Medical Center as technical issues and critical reports from the VA’s Office of Inspector General continue to stymie the implementation of the software.

In an internal VA email to staff distributed on Wednesday and obtained by Nextgov, VA Deputy Under Secretary for Health Steven Lieberman called the postponement “not a setback, but rather part of the process.” 

The VA announced last month that all of its originally planned software deployments for the year, with the exception of Boise, would be delayed until 2023, following a series of outages and logistical issues that have highlighted serious flaws in the EHR system. The deployment at Boise VA Medical Center was originally scheduled for June 25, before being pushed back to July 23. The most recent delay indefinitely postpones the software’s go-live date.

“At this time, VA has not scheduled a new launch date for the electronic health record system at the Boise VA Medical Center,” VA spokesman Randal Noller said.

“Many thanks go to our Boise VAMC and [Electronic Health Record Modernization Integration Office] staff, who worked tirelessly to get us to this point,” the email said. “There are positive improvements in many areas because of their hard work. However, in assessing Boise’s readiness for deployment this weekend, VA made the decision that more could be done to ensure a safe and successful deployment. VA continues to work with Oracle Cerner to implement important system enhancements and make the necessary improvements to ensure system stability."

VA Secretary Denis McDonough confirmed the delayed software rollout at the Boise VA Medical Center during a press conference on Wednesday, but said “we’ve learned from these issues around patient safety” when asked about the long-term viability of the EHR system.

The next EHR system deployments are currently scheduled for January 28, 2023, in Michigan’s Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. According to EHRM’s online deployment schedule, the tentative go-live date for both facilities—as of June—was the second quarter of 2023. 

News of the postponement came the same day that VA leaders overseeing the agency’s software deployment were grilled by members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee about outages, cost overruns and patient care concerns that have impacted the five VA medical sites where the system is currently live. Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., said during the hearing that a third-party estimate of the EHR software project presented to Congress found that it would cost more than $50 billion over 20-plus years.

Idaho’s entire congressional delegation said in a joint press release that it raised concerns with the VA about the software’s deployment at the Boise VA Medical Center following a series of critical OIG reports about the EHR system. One of the recent watchdog reports found that the software implemented at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Eastern Washington—the first commercial rollout of the EHR system—had a critical flaw that improperly routed more than 11,000 clinical orders to an “unknown queue” without the knowledge of clinicians. 

While Idaho’s lawmakers said that some of these deficiencies had been addressed, their release noted that “numerous outstanding issues remain.”

“As the VA works to determine a viable path forward for the new EHR system, we once again call on VA and Oracle Cerner leadership to put veterans first by fixing the long-identified issues with the program that pose a threat to patient care,” Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, along with Republican Reps. Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher, said. “Before the system is rolled out at any additional sites, it must be made safe, reliable and user-friendly.”