VA electronic records upgrade draws more heat after latest problem with patient data

More than 200 patient records at a veterans hospital in Washington were corrupted. The problem prompted calls to delay a wider rollout of the new health record system.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it is continuing full steam ahead to modernize its electronic health record system, but a new problem in patient records brought more criticism to the project.

The VA took its new electronic health system offline last week after a problem affecting patient records at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington. The issue led to delays in services for patients late last week.

The electronic health records system was taken offline Friday morning and was back up Saturday, a VA spokesman said in an email. Records for 205 patients were corrupted, and the VA is working to correct the information, the spokesman said.

The VA is reaching out to those patients to make sure the VA gets the care they need. No patients were harmed, officials said.

Still, the problem with patient records at the Spokane hospital led to a pause in admitting new patients, The Spokesman-Review reported last week. Previous problems with the new system have threatened patient care and frustrated staff, the newspaper has reported.

The VA attributed the issue last week to a software update causing errors in retrieving some patient information from their electronic records.

The VA has tapped Cerner to modernize the electronic health records of the entire system but the effort has hit setbacks and costs have exceeded initial estimates. The VA is testing the new system at the veterans hospital in Spokane and plans to roll out the new system to other facilities this year.

Lawmakers in Washington state, some of whom have already voiced concerns about the project, delivered fresh criticisms and calls to put on the brakes.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from eastern Washington, said the latest incident offers more evidence the expanded use of the new electronic system should be paused. The system is slated to be activated at the veterans hospital in Walla Walla, Washington later this month, but Rodgers said that should be delayed.

“The shutdown of Mann-Grandstaff VA yesterday is another event in a series of challenges that the new electronic health record has created for staff and veterans at the facility,” she said in a statement.

“I stand by the request I made on February 3rd for the go-live in Walla Walla to be delayed until the VA can ensure the facility can maintain the highest levels of service for our veterans,” Rodgers added.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, said it was “absolutely unacceptable” that a software error led to patients being denied services, according to a report by Military.com. She said she wants to be sure the modernization effort doesn’t impede veterans from getting the care they need.

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

The VA has been working for years to revamp its electronic health record system, but the modernization effort has been costly and complex.

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. The project could be more expensive. A GAO report issued in July 2021 said the VA likely underestimated the costs for information technology upgrades by $2.5 billion.

In December, tech giant Oracle announced it was acquiring Cerner in a $28 billion deal.

The VA had planned to deploy its new system at the VA Central Ohio Healthcare System on March 5, but pushed that back to April 30, due to the surge of COVID-19 cases this winter, the agency said last month.

The VA expects the modernized electronic health record system to be fully in place by 2028. The department says it will connect the VA’s medical facilities with the Department of Defense and other providers to allow easy access to veterans’ records and ultimately lead to better care.