New VA secretary to review EHR modernization program after troubling reports

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House on March 4, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

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New Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough announced a “strategic review” of his department’s electronic health record modernization program Friday, a move welcomed by lawmakers.

The review comes after the VA previously rejected a call from the Government Accountability Office to pause the system’s rollout to fix critical issues and a congresswoman sent a letter this week to VA leadership detailing medical issues caused by the transition.

The recent reports of issues with the program stem from the October go-live of the EHR system at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, the first center to launch the new Cerner-built EHR system.

“A successful EHR deployment is essential in the delivery of lifetime, world-class health care for our Veterans,” McDonough said in a release. “After a rigorous review of our most-recent deployment at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, it is apparent that a strategic review is necessary. VA remains committed to the Cerner Millennium solution, and we must get this right for Veterans.”

The plan to next roll out the system in Columbus, Ohio, is still on track, but schedule changes are on the table following the review, the VA announced. It’s unclear what else might change after the 12-week review, but the recent GAO report pointed to several technical issues that need to be tested and addressed.

With new scrutiny of the $16 billion, 10-year modernization program developed during the Trump administration, some members of Congress are questioning the continuation of the contract with Cerner Millennium.

“It is more important for VA to get EHRM right than to rush it and put veterans’ health at risk,” House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said in a statement. “This strategic review comes at a critical time, and I’m hopeful that it will ensure Secretary McDonough has an opportunity to examine the prior administration’s handling of the project and course correct if necessary.”

Republicans also welcomed the review while questioning the entire continued existence of the program. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican congresswoman from Spokane, Washington, described staffing shortfalls and issues with prescription refills as “dangerous and unacceptable” in a letter to McDonough Wednesday.

The top Republican on the committee’s Technology Modernization Subcommittee echoed a similar sentiment.

“It is not too much to ask that the Cerner electronic health record pass a simple test, that proves it will help doctors and nurses deliver quality and timely care to veterans, before it can be deployed anywhere else,” Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mt., said in a statement. “If it cannot do that, we should not continue to spend on the contract.”

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Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Cerner, Denis McDonough, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), electronic health records (EHRs), Government Accountability Office (GAO), Matt Rosendale, Rep. Mark Takano
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