A timeline of VA's Cerner EHR project developments in 2020

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The Department of Veterans Affairs' has experienced various developments in its $16 billion EHR implementation project this year, from schedule delays and leadership changes to the launch of its new health information exchange.

In May 2018, VA finalized a $10 billion contract with Cerner to develop an EHR that will be interoperable with the U.S. Defense Department's system.

Here is a timeline of the project's developments so far in 2020:

Jan. 3: VA awards a five-year, $35 million task order to Liberty IT Solutions, which provides technology transformation services to government agencies, to support its EHR modernization program.

Jan. 29: Ahead of its anticipated March 28 EHR go live, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray pens a letter to Richard Stone, MD, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, to express her concerns with staffing and facility issues at Spokane, Wash.-based Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center.

Feb. 3: VA Secretary Robert Wilkie fires VA Deputy Secretary James Byrne, who oversaw the VA's EHR modernization effort, due to a "loss of confidence in Mr. Byrne's ability to carry out his duties," Mr. Wilkie said.

Feb. 5: During a press conference, Mr. Wilkie says Mr. Byrne's removal "will not impact the EHR modernization project at all," and that he was fired for "not gelling" with other team members.

Feb. 11: VA confirms it will delay the Spokane facility's Cerner EHR launch at least until the end of April because it needs more time to finish building the system. The delay follows last September's, when VA pushed back two of the EHR go-lives, scheduled for Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.-based medical centers until October 2020.

Feb. 12: VA requests an 82 percent increase for spending in 2021 on its EHR modernization project. The proposed increase would put the budget line at $2.6 million, up from a projected spending level of $1.5 billion.

Feb. 13: A Senate committee passes a bill that requires the VA to be more transparent about the status of its multimillion-dollar IT projects. The bill will require VA to ensure its entries and risk data on the federal IT dashboard is up to date.

Feb. 24: The Department of Defense and VA's inspectors general announce they will begin a joint audit to assess the agencies' progress achieving interoperability between their Cerner-built EHR systems.

Feb. 27: Mr. Wilkie tells lawmakers that VA's goal is to deploy the new system sometime during July at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, and that he will now serve as the highest official on project, replacing former VA deputy secretary James Byrne.

March 5: Lawmakers tell VA officials they're worried the department will experience more delays of the EHR rollout in the future before its planned July go-live date at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center. "We have four months now to build, to test, to train, to deal with the infrastructure issues," Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., and chairwoman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's panel on technology, tells project officials. "We hope you get this right. This is an incredibly important project not just for VA, but for healthcare across the country."

March 11: In an op-ed for Military Times, former VA secretary Anthony Principi writes that the department's decision to further delay its Cerner EHR go-live indicates the agency's feedback and review process is working.

April 3: Mr. Wilkie confirms the VA is postponing its EHR go-live to focus on distributing staff in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, other aspects of the implementation such as its joint health information exchange with the DOD are still scheduled to deploy later in April.

April 20: VA and DOD launch their joint HIE, allowing the agencies to securely access and share patients' medical record data with participating community healthcare partners.

April 27: VA's Office of Inspector General releases two reports evaluating the VA's now-delayed EHR deployment at Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center, claiming the agency had not been adequately prepared for various issues such as staffing and patient access. 

May 4: The U.S. Government Accountability Office issues a report claiming that three members of President Donald Trump's informal group at Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., made numerous recommendations from 2016-18 on various VA initiatives, including its $16 billion EHR contact with Cerner.

June 3: Two congressional sources tell Politico that the EHR project likely will not be ready for implementation "until fall at earliest," in part due to a COVID-19 outbreak at a local veterans home in Spokane, Wash. A third source close to the project says VA officials have been prioritizing their COVID-19 response and have not made a decision on delaying the project.

June 5: GAO releases a report claiming that while the VA's decision-making procedures for its Cerner EHR rollout have generally been effective, it has sometimes failed to include the input of key stakeholders such as medical facility clinicians and staff.

June 23: Cerner Vice President of Government Services Julie Stoner says during a Federal News Network podcast that the plan for the VA Cerner EHR implementation project is to deploy the new EHR in nine years and six months across the VA network.

July 6: The House Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee proposes a 12 percent increase in funding for IT modernization for the VA's 2021 budget, including $1.1 billion more for its $16 billion EHR implementation.

July 8: VA issues a request for information seeking a robotic process automation solution to digitize its backlog of about 600,000 medical records into its new EHR system. 

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