VA targets summer 2024 for Oracle-Cerner EHR rollout to resume

The Department of Veterans Affairs' new EHR timeline is frustrating lawmakers, who say the VA has little to show for the project, after five years and billions ...

The Department of Veterans Affairs says its pause on a new electronic health record (EHR) will probably continue for much of next year.

That timeline is frustrating lawmakers, who say the VA has little to show for the project, after five years and billions of dollars going into it.

But VA officials and the contractor behind the project said upcoming EHR rollouts will go more smoothly, once the current “reset” period ends.

Neil Evans, acting program executive director of VA’s EHR Modernization Integration Office, said the department is targeting summer 2024 for the Oracle-Cerner EHR rollout to continue.

“Even before that, we should be having real discussions about whether we’re ready to move forward with restart,” Evans told the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

However, Evans told lawmakers there’s currently no clear timeline yet for the EHR rollout to resume

“There’s still more work to be done before we will be ready to publish a new schedule and proceed with deployments across the rest of the VA health care system,” Evans said.

The VA’s ability to resume the EHR rollout will depend, in large part, on the success of the system’s launch in March 2024 at the Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in Chicago.

The facility is jointly run by the VA and the Defense Department, which is much further ahead in its own deployment of the same Oracle-Cerner EHR

Mike Sicilia, executive vice president of Oracle Global Industries, said a successful go-live at the Lovell Federal Health Care Center would demonstrate the EHR will work at larger, more complex facilities.

“Once we begin deploying again, we should be able to speed deployments,” Sicilia said. “To do so will require achieving a repeatable model during the reset. Not only will this minimize costs and allow more predictable timely deployments, but it will also allow VA to achieve a consistent provider and veteran experience and quality of care across its system.”

The Oracle-Cerner EHR is currently running at five small and medium-sized VA medical centers. Full deployment would bring it to more than 170 VA medical facilities.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said that VA should have deployed the EHR to about 70 sites by now, given its original timeline for the project.

However, she said it was “prudent for VA and Oracle-Cerner to hit pause and fix the issues” at the five sites already using the system.

“The expectation and necessity is no patient safety issues, no unplanned system outages or degradations and successful user adoption of the system,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We need a health record system that works and that clinicians are excited to use.”

The VA is requesting nearly $1.9 billion for the EHR rollout in its fiscal 2024 budget. However, Rep. Tony Gonzalez (R-Texas) urged lawmakers to possibly cut funding to the EHR project, given its performance to date.

“There absolutely needs to be an urgency in fixing this issue. What if we cut funding? Would that light a fire? What if next year was zero? Would that light a fire in fixing this program?” Gonzalez said.

Given delays in the Oracle-Cerner rollout, the VA expects to rely on its legacy EHR, VistA, for another five-to-10 years, if not longer.

Evans, however, said VistA won’t be able to support VA’s long-term health care needs.

“We don’t want to stay in reset forever. In fact, I would argue that we’re at higher risk, the longer we maintain a health care system that’s running two different electronic health record systems,” Evans said. “And so we need to feel an urgency to move forward [and] get back to a single electronic health record system that supports the enterprise.”

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