Electronic Health Records

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Congress Seeks Improved Oversight of VA Cerner EHR Implementation

New legislation will require VA to provide Congress with documents providing insight into its Cerner EHR implementation.

VA Cerner Implementation

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- Four House Representatives have introduced legislation to increase Congress’s oversight of the VA Cerner EHR implementation.

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe, MD (R-TN), Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-MN), Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Committee Chairman Jack Bergman (R-MI), and Ranking Member Annie Kuster (D-NH) introduced the legislation following a House Committee hearing about the VA Cerner implementation on October 24.

The Veterans’ Electronic Health Record Modernization Oversight Act of 2017 will ensure VA provides Congress with its key planning and implementation documents throughout the Cerner EHR replacement project.

Additionally, VA will provide Congress with copies of the contracts to indicate how much the implementation will cost.

“As chairman and a physician, I know firsthand the value an effective electronic health records system plays in providing patients with quality health care,” said Roe. “The transition to the Cerner system aims to achieve seamless interoperability with the Department of Defense (DoD), which has been one of my priorities since coming to Congress, and will be one of the largest projects the department has been tasked with implementing.”

The Act will also require VA to notify Congress of any significant increase in cost, delay in scheduling, or loss or breach of veteran health data.

“While Secretary Shulkin’s announcement was a welcome one, it is now incredibly important to make sure the modernization process is as seamless as possible,” stated Walz. “Whether it is preventing disruptions in patient care, protecting the privacy of veterans, or ensuring American taxpayer dollars are invested responsibly and in a way that will improve healthcare delivery for veterans, this bill will ensure that Congress has the authority it needs to oversee the process and hold VA accountable every step of the way.”

During the October 24 House Committee hearing, VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD stated the Cerner EHR implementation will go live at the first VA site 18 months after the federal agency completes contract negotiations with Cerner.

The system will be fully implemented at all VA sites within the next seven to eight years.

In an effort to provide additional insights and recommendations to support the Cerner VA implementation, Cerner also created an advisory group that includes former government, military, and private sector leaders interested in optimizing Veteran healthcare.

“It is well known that large IT modernization projects, particularly those in the government, often encounter significant problems,” said Bergman. “It’s also no secret that VA has a poor track record of keeping Congress informed regarding its modernization efforts.”

In June, three senators prompted VA to keep Congress better informed about its modernization efforts by requesting a projected timeline for the implementation.

Senators also requested information about which DoD best practices VA planned to adopt to ensure the implementation progressed smoothly, and which legislative barriers VA expected to encounter throughout the process.

 “While it appears the VA has made strides to improve the flow of information, complete transparency is essential for the modernization of its electronic health record,” continued Bergman. “This legislation ensures Congress has access to key implementation documents within the VA to enable the rigorous oversight required by all who are served by the VA.”

Because Cerner and VA are still in the process of negotiating a contract, Shulkin has not revealed how much the implementation will cost.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs’ outdated electronic health records (EHR) system has posed a persistent challenge to efforts to improve care for veterans,” said Kuster. “This legislation will ensure that this process is undertaken with the transparency and accountability necessary.”

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