Former VA CIO on fate of EHR modernization: ‘Plan is still to move forward’

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The Veterans Affairs Department’s former acting chief information officer, just one week after announcing his immediate resignation, said the agency’s ambitious move to the same electronic health record system as the Defense Department is still moving forward, despite a shakeup in leadership.

Scott Blackburn, the former executive in charge of VA’s Office of Information and Technology, said the agency is just months away from finalizing a contract with the Cerner Corporation, the lead vendor for DoD’s EHR system.

“My understanding is the plan is still to move forward. Myself leaving or Secretary [David] Shulkin leaving should not have much impact on that,” Blackburn said Monday at the GITEC 2018 Summit.

“Things are still moving forward, at least to the best of my knowledge. I’m looking forward to seeing that contract signed in a couple of months,” he added.

Scott Blackburn, the former executive in charge of VA’s Office of Information and Technology.

Less than a month ago, President Donald Trump fired Secretary David Shulkin and tapped Robert Wilkie, the undersecretary for defense for personnel and readiness, to serve as acting VA secretary while the permanent nominee, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the president’s physician, awaits Senate confirmation.

“You have to have the new folks, whether it’s acting Secretary Wilkie or hopefully soon-to-be Secretary Jackson — I hope it’s a quick confirmation process — a little bit of time to understand what they’re signing. But the majority of the team is still in place. They’ve done a fantastic job. It’s basically at the goal line, and I think folks are just taking a little bit of a pause to make sure they understand and make sure they’re set up for success,” Blackburn said.

Last week, news of Blackburn’s resignation, along with the lack of a permanent secretary, left some to wonder whether VA’s EHR modernization effort would lose momentum.

Last year, Shulkin had announced the department’s plans to move away from existing Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) and adopt the same commercial, off-the-shelf electronic health record as the Defense Department.

Later that year, however, he paused contract negotiations with Cerner, and told Congress that they would resume negotiations “soon.”