VA pushes back second EHR deployment, citing delays in training from COVID-19

The Veterans Affairs Department is pushing back the second rollout of its Electronic Health Record (EHR) system because of a shortage of employees available for training amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

The VA is delaying the EHR go-live date at its medical care facility in Columbus, Ohio, to April 30. The agency last month expected the system would go live at that facility on March 5.

Melissa Bryant, VA’s deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, told reporters Friday that the EHR system from Cerner is “fully built-out” at the Columbus VA facility and ready to operate, but said the agency is not where it needs to be with training employees.

“This is in no way a decision that was made based on the readiness or lack thereof of the Columbus facility,” Bryant said.

Bryant said that as of Thursday, 209 employees at the Columbus VA facility were out of work, which has forced the agency to push back scheduled training.

The VA is also evaluating its options for providing remote or virtual training. Brant said the training was, in particular, delayed for “super-users” at the Columbus VA facility.

“In a nutshell, your super-users are training the trainers, basically the ones who are going through doing the sort of beta testing, if you will, the ones who have greater functionality and capability in their usage of the Cerner Millennium tool,” she said.

The VA planned for its EHR system to go live at a third facility in Walla Walla, Washington, about two weeks later than the Columbus launch, but the VA is reassessing its timeline for future deployments.

“We’re going to reevaluate the entirety of the deployment list,” Bryant said, adding that “the goal is to stay as close to on-target” as possible with the timeline the VA released in December.

The VA launched a strategic review last March, which effectively paused the rollout of the multi-billion dollar project.

The review uncovered widespread patient safety issues, technical problems, and training shortfalls, as well as other budgetary and organizational challenges at the department’s first go-live site in Seattle.

“We can’t guarantee that the pandemic won’t cause any further issues. The reason that we feel confident within VA senior leadership that we should be able to keep the schedule on track is because of the fixes that we made following through strategic preview,” Bryant said.

Terry Adirim, program executive director of the Electronic Health Record Modernization Integration Office, said upcoming deployments of the EHR system “must be weighed against community health and can be resumed when it is appropriate to do so.”

“As we see the pandemic surge in the Columbus community, we need to support the medical professionals while they focus their attention on meeting the health care needs of their patients,” Adirim said.

VA spokesman Terrence Hayes said the Columbus VA facility hasn’t scaled back elective surgeries or other care because it is an ambulatory care center, not an inpatient facility.

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