‘Get this right’: VA delays rollout of new electronic health record system until June 2023

The new system has been plagued with problems and drawn the ire of lawmakers. The Department of Veterans Affairs says it’s working with Oracle Cerner to resolve the issues.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has pushed back the deployment of its new electronic health record system yet again.

Citing technical and system issues, the VA is postponing the rollout of the new Oracle Cerner system at additional facilities until June 2023. In the summer, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said new deployments would be delayed until January 2023, but the department has now pushed the date back again.

The VA said in an Oct. 13 news release that an investigation of the five facilities that are using the new system have identified a host of problems, including “latency and slowness, problems with patient scheduling, referrals, medication management, and other types of medical orders.”

The department said it is contacting veterans at the facilities using the new system who have been affected by the problems. The VA said it is asking veterans to contact the department if they have had delays in appointments, medications, test results or referrals. The agency said the VA will be in touch with veterans within five business days to address their concerns.

Lawmakers and federal watchdogs have faulted the VA for years over problems with the project, which has a price tag of $16 billion. The VA awarded a 10-year contract for the modernization project to Cerner in 2018. Oracle acquired Cerner in a $28 billion deal in June 2022.

The VA said it will work closely with Oracle Cerner in an “assess & address” period to correct the problems, particularly those that could affect patient safety.

Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Donald Remy, who oversees VA’s EHR program, said in a statement that the new system won’t go out to other facilities until all the problems are resolved.

“Right now, the Oracle Cerner electronic health record system is not delivering for Veterans or VA health care providers – and we are holding Oracle Cerner and ourselves accountable to get this right,” Remy said in a statement.

“We are delaying all future deployments of the new EHR while we fully assess performance and address every concern,” he said. “Veterans and clinicians deserve a seamless, modernized health record system, and we will not rest until they get it.”

An attempt to reach Oracle Cerner for comment was not successful.

‘Botched rollout’

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, has repeatedly criticized the project for years. She has said veterans are being put at risk due to problems with the electronic health record modernization project at a veterans hospital in Spokane.

After the VA announced the deployment of the new system will be delayed until June, Murray said last week she will keep pushing until the problems are resolved.

“I have been incredibly frustrated by how the botched rollout of the Oracle Cerner EHR system has hurt veterans and undermined hardworking VA providers and staff in Washington state,” Murray said in a statement Thursday.

“It’s painfully clear we need to stop this program until the VA can fix these serious issues before they hurt anyone else—so I’m glad that after months of pushing, the VA has correctly decided to further delay the VA Puget Sound rollout,” she said. “I don’t want to see this rollout move forward one inch until the system is fully fixed.”

The department launched the new electronic record system at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington in 2020. In March, the record system had to be taken offline temporarily after a problem affecting patient records, which delayed some services.

In June, more than 140 patients were harmed due to problems with the new system, according to a report from The Spokesman-Review in Washington. The news organization cited the findings of a draft report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General. The inspector general released its report in July, which found the new system at the Spokane hospital failed to deliver more than 11,000 orders for clinical services between October 2020 and June 2021. The report identified 149 adverse events for patients.

Murray, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), and U.S. Reps. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Frank Mrvan, D-Ind., wrote a joint letter to McDonough in June urging the VA to fix the system.

Bipartisan criticism

Republican lawmakers have also assailed the VA over the system’s problems.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse said in July the inspector general’s findings on problems affecting patient survey were “deeply disturbing.”

“In some instances, the OIG reports cite specific instances where senior VA staff failed to fully implement training and evaluation programs for employees, inaccurately reported data, and failed to recognize and report multiple red flags,” Newhouse said in a statement.

After the problems with the record system at the Spokane hospital in March, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., called it “another event in a series of challenges that the new electronic health record has created for staff and veterans at the facility.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in May the VA needs to address issues in the modernization that could affect patient safety, including errors in medication and allergy data in electronic records.

In 2018, the VA awarded a $10 billion, 10-year contract with Cerner to upgrade the system, but the VA later revised the cost to $16 billion. A GAO report issued in July 2021 said the VA likely underestimated the costs for information technology upgrades by $2.5 billion.

President Biden signed legislation in June requiring the VA to provide quarterly updates on the cost, progress and performance of the electronic health record project.

The VA said last week it remains committed to building a better electronic health record system. The VA wants the new system to link with the Department of Defense health record system, which the department said will lead to better healthcare for veterans.