VA sets 1st Cerner go-live for 2020

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs plans to be fully functional on its new Cerner EHR at three test sites in the Pacific Northwest by March 2020, officials said in a hearing before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs June 26.

The overhaul will follow a wave model, with the first go-lives slated at Washington VA facilities in Spokane, Seattle and American Lake this July. Implementation is set for October.

VA finalized its contract with Cerner May 17, awarding the EHR vendor $10 billion over the next 10 years to put the VA on the same records system as the U.S. Defense Department. The goal is to take lessons learned from DOD's early implementations to avoid similar mishaps and complications. DOD began its transition to Cerner in February 2017 and has been criticized for numerous problems, including the management and documentation of patient care, poor system usability, insufficient training and inadequate help desk support.

Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, MD, R-Tenn., emphasized the project's scope and the need for strict government oversight. He proposed a new subcommittee June 21 that would monitor the EHR transition.

"$15.8 billion over 10 years, including $10 billion to Cerner, is a staggering number for an enormous government agency," Dr. Roe said. "The EHR Modernization is not just a technology project; it will have a major impact on the way Veterans Health Administration operates. That means clinical and administrative workflows. It will also reshape the culture, as VistA has. However, if imposed on the clinicians from the top down, the culture will reject it, and no amount of technological savvy will be able to save it."

It is not yet clear who will lead the modernization project. VA has faced an internal leadership struggle since President Donald Trump fired former Secretary David Shulkin, MD, in March. Shortly after, acting CIO Scott Blackburn — a key figure in the project — resigned.

Since Dr. Shulkin left the agency, Robert Wilkie has been serving as interim secretary. His confirmation hearing is scheduled for June 27. However, a number of other posts remain vacant, including deputy secretary and undersecretary for health.

Despite the present lack of permanent leadership, Dr. Roe is hopeful about the Cerner transition.

"The scale is daunting and the ambition is impressive. That is evident," Dr. Roe said during the hearing. "I am interested in the benefit, at the end of the 10 years, to the veteran and the clinician. The lifetime health record has to be worth the potential disruption. The ease of use and the new analytics in the EHR have to be worth the learning curve."  

More articles on EHRs:

Michigan behavioral health system goes live on Epic to coordinate with nearby hospitals
'Epic' success: How Children's Hospital of Philadelphia mastered its EHR update
Cerner joins HFMA: 3 things to know

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