VA deputy secretary to oversee troubled EHR program

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough swears in Deputy Secretary Donald Remy July 19, 2021. (Department of Veterans Affairs)

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The Department of Veterans Affairs’ No. 2 will oversee the agency’s troubled electronic health records modernization program, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said Tuesday.

Donald Remy became the first Senate confirmed deputy secretary since Feb. 3, 2020, when then-Secretary Robert Wilkie fired James Byrne. By law, the deputy secretary is the highest official overseeing the $16 billion, 10-year program. McDonough swore in Remy July 19, after lobbying Congress over the senior official’s delayed confirmation.

“It’s great to have him here, I admire Donald a great deal,” McDonough said during a press conference Tuesday. He added that Remy really “hit the ground running” on EHR.

Remy has already chaired two meetings on the program since being sworn in, the secretary said. The EHR program is designed to migrate patient records from the legacy Veterans Health Information System and Technology Architecture (VistA) to a Cerner-built cloud that will be interoperable with the Military Health System. The goal is by the time the program is fully implemented, service members will be able to transition seamlessly from DOD to VA health care, instead of needing to carry around stacks of paper forms as is current practice.

The program recently underwent a 12-week strategic review that found an overall lack of coordination in the program’s rollout that had lead to poor training, a lack of testing and resulting “patient safety issues,” such as mismanaged prescriptions. McDonough said that by having Remy in place it will force the program to be “functioning as one unit.”

Following the strategic review, the VA said it would focus on eight points of improvement in order to get the massive modernization program back on track after its initial go-live in Spokane, Washington. All future rollouts have been paused for the remainder of calendar 2021, with a new schedule anticipated to be created in early 2022.

One position that is still vacant at VA is the executive agent in charge of the program that can act on behalf of the deputy secretary and lead day-to-day work on the program, McDonough said.

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Denis McDonough, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), electronic health records (EHRs), Modernization
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