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With VA Decision Looming, Cerner Rollout Receives Grim Review from DoD


During a recent call with shareholders, Cerner executives spent very little time discussing the DoD situation, instead focusing on the VA deal they still expect to be signed shortly.

Historical photo of the entrance to Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington. Fairchild was 1 of the first 4 facilities where Cerner's MHS Genesis was piloted. Image is in the public domain.

Just days before Politico published a devastating report about the Department of Defense’s (DoD) fraught transition to Cerner’s custom-build MHS Genesis platform, the electronic health records (EHR) provider dispatched a quick summary of the program’s successes.

“These early successes prove we are on the right track,” the authors wrote.

Subsequent reporting—and a new memo from the DoD itself—stand in stark contrast to that sentiment. The agency recently released a scalding report about the technology and the transition, declaring that the platform “does not demonstrate enough workable functionality to manage and document patient care,” which seems fundamental to the purpose of an EHR.

>>READ: So, Who's Left at the VA, and What Does that Mean for the Cerner Deal?

The evaluation was overall grim: On the System Usability Scale (SUS), it received an average score of only 37 (out of 100). The minimum threshold for “acceptable usability” is 70. In testing, it was given 197 measures of performance (MOPs), of which it met slightly more than half—56%.

The details in the report seem to confirm many of the complaints that arose from March’s Politico story. “Ineffective or non-existent workflows…caused some users to create their own workarounds,” while “actions that used to take one minute to complete were taking several minutes using MHS GENESIS.”

A day before the report was penned (it's dated April 30 but became public last week), Cerner executives held a call with shareholders. Issues identified in the memo were not a subject of conversation, and very little time was devoted to the DoD situation. Company president Zane Burke said only that “The optimization phase of the project at the initial site has been completed,” and had “resulted in several improvements” that Cerner will implement in subsequent employments.

A good portion of that conversation did, however, focus on the other government contract that Cerner has in its sights: the yet-to-be-finalized deal with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). The company still fully expects to have a contract in hand by the end of the year and has factored it into its revenue projections. The company has been playing a waiting game with the agency since former VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, announced that it would be awarded (without bid) nearly 1 year ago. Central to that decision was a desire for interoperability with the DoD.

For its part, VA is reportedly planning to make a decision on whether to proceed by Memorial Day—just 2 weeks from today. That responsibility will fall on Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie, who is also Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness at DoD. He assumed leadership at VA after Shulkin’s long-expected firing in late March and, according to another VA official, “sort of came in cold” to the Cerner negotiations.

Less than a month ago, VA’s most senior IT official, Acting Chief Information Officer Scott Blackburn, abruptly resigned.

Related Coverage:

Coast Guard Hops on Defense Department's Cerner Pact

Shulkin Fears Polarization, Privatization of VA Following Dismissal

VA Secretary Says Agency Must Replace "130" Different EHR Systems

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