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Senate Committee Says EHR Modernization Cannot Be Allowed to Fail

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has issued a serious warning to new VA CIO James Gfrerer about the EHR modernization project.

VA EHR modernization

Source: Xtelligent Healthcare Media

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- In a letter to newly appointed VA CIO James Gfrerer, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Jon Tester (D-MT) detailed the level of scrutiny the federal agency will be under for its high-profile and experience IT projects, namely its EHR modernization effort.

“There is no doubt that insufficient resources, a chronic lack of transparency, and an inability to effectively prioritize countless competing objectives had led to serious questions about VA’s ability to meet the standard of technology necessary to serve our nation’s veterans,” wrote Tester.

From a funding standpoint, Tester called for realistic budget requests given the federal agency’s failure in previous attempts at modernizing its EHR technology and health IT infrastructure — the abandoned joint integrated EHR being one of them.

“A Budget Request that reflects the accurate needs of the Department, in addition to the resources needed for the Electronic Health Record Modernization project, is essential if VA is to carry out the health care and benefit priorities that Congress has established,” Tester emphasized.

While Gfrerer cannot be held responsible for the past failures at VA, he is tasked with righting the ship and appears to enjoy the support of Congress.

“I stand ready to assist should you need any new legislative authority or additional financial resources to support properly staffing and retaining employees,” Tester added.

And while EHR modernization project at VA falls under the purview of the Office of the Electronic Health Record Management (OEHRM), Tester has called on Gfrerer and the Office of Information and Technology (OI&T) to play a “critical” role in ensuring that the health IT project does not lead to history repeating itself.

“As you know, OI&T will maintain responsibility for managing infrastructure needs for both the facilities that have received the new EHR as well as those that have not,” Tester observed.

“This task will require significant resources and robust oversight as VA manages a decade-long rollout,” he continued. “Throughout implementation, OI&T must also go beyond simply maintaining its current EHR system, VistA, and continue important development projects that allow VA medical centers to continue serving veterans without any adverse impacts. EHR modernization cannot be allowed to fail, and your leadership is essential if VA is to ultimately achieve a truly interoperable electronic health record for veterans.”

Last week, the Senate voted to confirm Gfrerer, a former marine and Ernst & Young cybersecurity executive. He will be the first permanent CIO the VA has had in two years, since LaVerne Council left the VA in January 2017. Acting CIO Scott Blackburn abruptly resigned from the position amidst agency turmoil in April 2018. Gfrerer will lead the Cerner EHR modernization project, previously led by Blackburn.

During his confirmation hearing in September, Gfrerer said that the timeline for the VA EHR rollout could be shortened. Further, he understands the “intricacies of IT legacy systems and large-scale IT projects” that could ensure the project’s success.

Gfrerer also pledged to fix the cybersecurity issues at the agency, which has been on the Office of the Inspector General’s high-risk list for the last three years. He also advocated maintaining VistA during the Cerner implementation to assist with the transition.

Currently, DoD’s MHS Genesis is deployed at four Pacific Northwest sites, while the VA has begun its initial implementation at pilot sites in the Pacific Northwest, with a planned go-live of March 2020. VA has awarded Cerner three task orders, conducted a Current Review of VA initial operating capability care sites, and established 18 EHR councils to support the EHR project.

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