- After months of delay, VA Cerner EHR contract negotiations are expected to be finalized by the end of February, according to Chief Technology Officer (CTO) John Short in a recent budget call with reporters.
In October 2017, VA Secretary David Shulkin announced the federal agency would award its EHR implementation contract to Cerner in November. However, contract negotiations were put off in part because of delays in reaching a deal with congressional appropriators about placing the right amount of money in the correct accounts to pay for the deal. A strategic interoperability assessment launched in December further pushed back the contract finalization.
Short stated a report on interoperability between Cerner EHR systems and other commercial products has been completed at Shulkin’s request, according to FCW. The report has been shared with Congress and the Office of Management and Budget.
VA health IT system acquisition project manager John Windom is visiting Cerner’s Kansas City headquarters to “finalize those changes over the next couple of days,” Short told FCW. Once negotiations are final, leadership will have input on the contract and congressional appropriators will approve a requested fund transfer of fiscal year (FY) 2018 money to begin work on the Cerner implementation.
As part of the recently-released proposed FY 2019 budget, the Trump Administration plans to allot $1.2 billion to VA for EHR modernization efforts.
The budget will assist with paying for the Cerner implementation as well as supporting collaboration between VA and the Department of Defense (DoD). VA intends to leverage existing infrastructure used for the DoD Cerner EHR system — MHS Genesis — to cut costs, share resources, and improve interoperability between departments.
The $1.2 billion budget includes $675 million for the Cerner contract, $120 million for program management, and $412 million for infrastructure support, according to VA budget documents.
The funding will also support the creation of a new office headed by Windom. Windom previously led the Pentagon’s open procurement of an EHR system, which led to a $4.3 billion, 10-year deal with Cerner
The 2019 budget line puts the modernization project outside the Office of Information and Technology, the entity created in 2005 to try to standardize and unify authority over IT spending across the sprawling hospital system and multi-departmental bureaucracy.
The office is headed by Windom, a retired Navy captain who once led the Pentagon's open procurement of an EHR system, which resulted in the $4.3-billion, 10-year DoD EHR modernization contract with Cerner.
The new office will also play a major role in improving existing VA infrastructure for the Cerner implementation. VA infrastructure improvements will help to ensure the federal agency is prepared to handle the bandwidth demands of the EHR system and adopt DoD health IT security standards.
The proposed budget will also cover the costs of modernizing the existing homegrown VistA EHR system over the next decade while the Cerner implementation is being carried out.
The "standardized VistA improves communication across the VistA ecosystem [and] reduces training time and costs … during the period of several years when EHRM and VistA are both operating simultaneously,” stated the federal agency in the budget.
In total, VA is requesting $4.185 billion for its Office OF Information Technology (OI&T) — down slightly from its enacted budget of $4.27 billion in 2017.
VA OI&T will need to support the onboarding of an expected 7,000 new employees and upgrades to the federal agency’s financial management systems, according to VA Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jon Rychalski.