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VA Pours Resources into EHR, Health IT Modernization Efforts

The Department of Veterans Affairs is making a concerted effort to modernize its health IT infrastructure as the July decision deadline for a new EHR system vendor approaches.

VA Modernization

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is working diligently to modernize its health IT infrastructure as it prepares to select a new electronic health record system to replace its existing patient management tools.  

Though VistA, VA’s homegrown EHR, was once considered an advanced example for all other EHRs to follow, the nearly 30-year-old system is ready to be replaced.

“VistA was a true pioneer in the birth of EHRs more than 30 years ago,” said Managing Partner of Black Book Research Doug Brown in a recent report. “In fact, much of the architecture of today’s commercial EHRs was based upon VistA’s open-source technology, which is used around the world.”

Despite obvious deficiencies, the federal agency was hesitant to scrap the IT infrastructure built on nearly $510 million in funds.

At this stage, however, the federal agency is ready to adopt a commercial EHR instead of continuing to work on revamping VistA.  

READ MORE: VA Shares Vision for EHR Interoperability, Modernization

Before doing so, however, the Department must ensure that its supporting infrastructure can provide a modern and stable foundation for future efforts.  In pursuit of this goal, VA has announced two modernization efforts in the past ten days aimed at standardizing clinical processes and digitizing health data to promote interoperability.

First, VA announced a $22 million initiative to improve its clinical decision support with two new vendors signed on to contribute software and clinical workflow services.

Cognitive Medical Systems and Motive Medical Intelligence entered into the one-year agreement with prime contractor B3 Group to help VA’s Office of Knowledge Based Systems (KBS) integrate top-of-the-line clinical decision support software and evidence-based workflows into the federal agency’s EHR systems.

Through the agreement, VA intends to spearhead further advancement toward industry-wide standardization and interoperability between health systems.

“This contract will help to move the VA and the entire healthcare community towards standardization of clinical content and interoperable systems, thereby reducing costs for payers and increasing healthcare outcomes for patients” said B3 Group Founder and COO Brad Palmer.

READ MORE: VA EHR Optimization Efforts a Concern for Congress

Following the agreement for improved clinical decision support, VA announced last week an agency-wide effort to digitize all health data from older inactive paper health records.

The agency is presently in the process of converting all paper health records into electronic records to streamline claims processes.

Previously, if a veteran’s medical condition required evaluation before filing a claim, retired paper records had to be boxed, shipped, and scanned into VA systems before work on a supplemental claim could begin.

Digitizing all health data will cut wait times significantly and ease the filing process for veterans and their families.

By the end of 2018, VA officials expect all paper claims records from all regional offices will be entered into its computer system as digital health data.

READ MORE: New VA Partnership for Electronic Health Information Exchange

“This modernization initiative seeks to eliminate delays caused by shipping and digital conversion,” said VA Office of Business Process Integration Director Bradley Houston. “It will give claims processors nationwide the ability to instantly access millions of inactive claim records when needed.”

VA’s commitment to modernization in the last few months shows the federal agency is ready to keep pace with a constantly-evolving industry.

While several large commercial EHR vendors are in the running to serve as the new official system, Cerner is rumored to be the most likely pick.

A recent Black Book report measured five leading vendors—Epic, Allscripts, Cerner, Meditech, and athenahealth—against four top-priority Trump Administration initiatives to see how each system’s capabilities stack up to the federal agency’s demands.

After giving each vendor a score for its ability to meet objectives for issues including veteran health access and opiate crisis solutions, Black Book awarded Cerner top marks and deemed it the best-suited candidate for the job.

“Cerner outperformed in technology functionalities that support the healthcare delivery sector’s role in combating the opiate crisis, scoring highest in drug surveillance tools and pharmaceutical prescription record tracking, behavioral health and addiction EHR capabilities,” wrote Black Book.

Black Book’s endorsement is not the only indication Cerner is likely to clinch the deal with VA.

VA also recently awarded Leidos a task order contract amounting to $29 million for at least a year of work to modernize the agency’s health IT infrastructure.

"We look forward to continuing to provide innovative information technology solutions to the VA and continuing to support their efforts to share health data inside the agency, with the DoD, and other external partners," said Leidos Health Group President Jon Scholl. "This program is vitally important to enabling the VA to provide the best care to our nation's Veterans, and we're proud to support our customer's most important mission."

Cerner and Leidos have a history of working well together after Leidos won a DoD modernization contract alongside the EHR vendor in 2015. With Leidos already roped into a VA contract, the groundwork is laid for the pair to join forces again after this summer’s official EHR decision.

Regardless of which vendor closes the deal to provide VA’s new system, it’s clear the federal agency is eager to optimize the efficiency of its health IT.



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