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VA Cerner EHR Contract Will Advance Despite Leadership Changes

Former VA CIO Scott Blackburn stated VA Cerner EHR contract negotiations will proceed as planned as he leaves the federal agency.

VA Cerner EHR contract negotiations should proceed as planned regardless of leadership changes.

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- VA will continue working to finalize the Cerner EHR contract despite former VA CIO Scott Blackburn and former VA Secretary David Shulkin’s sudden departure from the federal department, Blackburn stated at a recent Government Information Technology Executive Council summit.

“The plan is still to move forward,” Blackburn said at the summit, according to Federal Times. “Myself leaving or Secretary Shulkin leaving should not have much impact on that.”

“Things are still moving forward to the best of my knowledge, and I’m looking forward to seeing that contract signed in the next couple of months,” he added.

While Blackburn voiced confidence that contract negotiations for the Cerner EHR replacement of VA’s former homegrown VistA system are still underway, Federal Times reported that the VA press office and Cerner representatives were unable to confirm if the deal is progressing.

Blackburn admitted the recent changes in leadership will delay contract negotiations somewhat. However, he believes that the learning curve for new VA higher-ups will be brief.

Trump nominated US Navy Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson to take Shulkin’s place as the new VA Secretary. Jackson’s confirmation hearing will take place before the VA committee on April 25. However, VA senior administration officials and senators are concerned Jackson will not be confirmed as the new VA Secretary due to his lack of management experience, according to Axios.

In the meantime, Department of Defense (DoD) Undersecretary Robert Wilkie is serving as the Acting VA Secretary in Shulkin’s absence. VA has not yet named a replacement for Blackburn.

“I think after Secretary Shulkin left, you have to give the new folks — whether it’s acting Secretary Wilkie or hopefully soon-to-be Secretary Jackson, I hope it’s a quick confirmation process — a little bit of time to understand what they’re signing,” Blackburn said.

“But the majority of the team is still in place, and they’ve done a fantastic job,” continued Blackburn. “We’re basically at the goal line and I think the folks are just taking a little bit of a pause to understand and make sure it’s set up for success.”

According to Cerner executives, the VA EHR implementation will include 48 deployment waves, as well as an initial operating capability (IOC) deployment.

“I’m very excited to hand over the baton and very hopeful that the next team can continue on and build on the progress that we’ve made,” Blackburn said.

DoD Seeks Vendor to Consolidate Health Data from Old, New EHR Systems

Elsewhere in federal health IT news, DoD recently issued a notice to its Defense Health Agency (DHA) industry partner network requesting information about vendors capable of managing and consolidating data from its old and new EHR systems.

“The DHA is interested in learning more about tools to manage the enterprise data management systems for the MHS, and facilitate our ability to meaningfully share data between current systems and the data management systems in our new commercial EHR,” stated the federal agency. “This will likely include the eventual migration of large volumes of data to the new systems.”

DoD is currently in the process of deploying its Cerner MHS GENESIS EHR system at care sites across the Pacific Northwest. The department’s legacy EHR system — AHLTA — is still in use at the majority of DoD sites across the country. AHLTA has been in place at DoD care sites since 2003.

DHA stated it will need a data management system capable of integrating decades of historical health and business system data with clinical data in the new MHS GENESIS EHR system.

“As the new EHR generated health data begins to predominate over the next few years, DHA will need reference and metadata management systems able to relate national standard terminology to MHS system usage, and to enable proactive management of measurements from the clinicians' desktop to enterprise dashboard presentation,” clarified DHA.

DHA requested that industry partners submit information about data management systems able to interface with Cerner modules including the HealtheIntent population health management module, among other capabilities.

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