VA officials defend pace of progress on $16B Cerner EHR conversion

A member of the U.S. House Appropriations committee expressed frustration over the cost and length of Veteran Affair's $16 billion deal with Cerner to put the VA on the same records system as the Defense Department during a recent hearing but conceded he was for the first time encouraged by progress on the project, according to business tech website FCW.

Last May, the VA and Cerner finalized a contract awarding the EHR vendor $10 billion over the next 10 years. Since then, an additional $6 billion has been allocated for infrastructure upgrades and project management support.

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, called the $16 billion price tag and 10-year contract "outrageous."

"They've identified the problem, they're rectifying their problem, they should be able to understand how long it will take to rectify that problem," Mr. Hurd said, according to FCW. "I can't give a time, but I know it can be done in less than 10 years."

But Richard Stone, executive in charge at the Veterans Health Administration, explained the VA has 131 unique versions of Vista, the department's own EHR system. Having so many unique EHRs is slowing down the Cerner integration.

"This is not simply about bringing an electronic medical record to life, " Mr. Stone told the panel.  "This is about moving from a highly disjointed system without data integration to one that is fully data-integrated and therefore interoperable."

Cerner has mapped out data for the different transitions necessary to implement the single EHR, Mr. Stone testified, and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie explained that "hiccups" were to be expected in projects like this one. 

After hearing the federal officials' testimony, Mr. Hurd said this was "probably the first time I've ever been encouraged" by progress on the project.

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