The Department of Veterans Affairs will postpone the rollout of its new Electronic Health Record at four sites until next year, following several reports that raised significant concerns about the system’s reliability.
The VA’s decision to delay the EHR go-live at these locations after several inspector general and news reports found the EHR rollout at the first two go-live locations have led to several incidents that put patient safety at risk.
VA spokesman Terrence Hayes told Federal News Network on Tuesday that the agency will shift the Puget Sound VA Health Care System’s EHR go-live date from August 2022 to March 2023 — a decision that will affect the American Lake and Seattle VA Medical Centers.
The VA will also postpone the VA Portland Health Care System’s EHR go-live from November 2022 to April 2023, which will impact the Portland and Portland-Vancouver VA Medical Centers.
“In evaluating Puget Sound’s and Portland’s readiness for deployment, VA determined the system hadn’t shown adequate reliability to support the current schedule,” Hayes said.
Military Times first reported the VA’s decision to postpone the EHR go-live for these facilities.
The EHR, however, will still go live in Boise, Idaho on July 23 as planned.
Hayes said the VA adjusted the EHR deployment schedule for a “variety of reasons,” and will allow Oracle Cerner to put system enhancements in place, make the necessary improvements to ensure system stability, fix outstanding issues and address workflow challenges.
Oracle Cerner is obligated to maintain a 99.9% uptime Service Level Agreement (SLA) as part of its $16 billion contract with the VA.
“As we have previously reported, there have been unanticipated outages and system degradations from the onset of the new EHR rollout. To be confident that this SLA will be achieved moving forward, technicians must regularly test and validate system resiliency. VA and Oracle Cerner agreed this must be done to have high confidence in the system’s overall reliability,” Hayes said.
Hayes said the VA is also requesting Oracle Cerner develop an execution plan that outlines how it will provide regular testing and ensure the resiliency of the system.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough told the House VA Committee last month he’s “very concerned about the execution of the program to date,” but will press ahead with the EHR rollout, unless doing so would put veterans at risk.
McDonough told the committee that the new EHR from Cerner had experienced five shutdowns since March 3, the first of which was so “egregious,” that the company’s chief executive officer issued a signed apology.
In light of these and other recent outages, Cerner officials told lawmakers the company was considering a technical review of the EHR to ensure the system is stable and reliable for future rollouts.
A Cerner spokesperson told Federal News Network on May 31 that the company was leading a technical review “with all parties involved in this effort to improve reliability as part of our unwavering commitment to VA and our nation’s veterans.”
“Implementing a single electronic health record across VA, Defense Department and U.S. Coast Guard is among the most important health IT transformations of our generation and will make care safer, more accessible, and equitable for service members, veterans, and their families,” the Cerner spokesperson added.
Hayes said the VA had already reported its shifts in the EHR schedule to Congress.
A draft report from the VA inspector general’s office, first reported on by the Spokesman-Review on Sunday, found that the EHR rollout at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington caused harm to at least 148 veterans treated there.
An IG report publicly released earlier this month found that Mann-Grandstaff, a year into switching over to the new EHR, ran into data quality challenges so severe that VA officials told the IG’s office they were concerned about whether the facility could maintain its hospital accreditation.
“VA is highly confident that this deployment schedule can be achieved and is doing everything possible to ensure safe and successful deployments. Adjustments to the go-live schedule and other important considerations simply reflect this due diligence,” Hayes said.