The Department of Veterans Affairs won’t continue rolling out its new electronic health records (EHR) program to any new sites until 2022, a top VA official told Congress Wednesday.
Dr. Carolyn Clancy, deputy undersecretary for health at the VA, said a new schedule to deploy the system across the country won’t be ready until the end of the year. This comes after the VA’s recent strategic review of the program led the department to restructure the EHR’s rollout schedule to be based on which medical centers have the infrastructure ready.
The program was initially paused for the review in March, resulting in eight recommendations to improve the $16 billion, 10-year program. The cloud-based system from Cerner is designed to be interoperable with the Department of Defense’s new EHR platform and replace the legacy Veterans Health Information System Technology Architecture (VistA).
“We will not be scheduling any deployments in the next six months; the secretary is optimistic that end of this calendar year he will be able to discern a new deployment schedule,” Clancy told the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
That news was received well by some committee members who remain skeptical about the new system and want to see more proof that it can improve health outcomes.
“It would be irresponsible to deploy the Cerner system … until the bugs are worked out,” ranking member Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., said.
The VA is also re-working the cost estimates for the program after its inspector general found the initial estimates were as much as $2.6 billion short of what could be needed.
“We should have been far more transparent,” Clancy said about the initial cost estimate for the program.
Following the hearing, full committee Chair Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Bost announced a new bill that would require the VA report on the EHR’s costs every three months. Names the VA Electronic Health Record Transparency Act of 2021, the bill would require the reports to include all expenses in the program include infrastructure upgrade costs, which had been counted separately.
“Given this month’s Inspector General reports and what we heard at today’s hearing, it’s clear we need a full accounting of all costs associated with VA’s EHRM project,” Takano said in a statement. “I’ve heard some concerning information about the state of the EHRM project, and I’m worried that the total cost estimate was vastly underestimated by the previous administration.”