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VA Stalls Cerner EHR Contract for Interoperability Assessment

In written testimony, VA Secretary David Shulkin said negotiations for the Cerner EHR contract were halted on December 13, 2017.

VA Cerner EHR

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- VA has put Cerner EHR contract negotiations on hold to conduct an independent interoperability assessment, according to testimony from VA Secretary David Shulkin at a Senate committee hearing earlier this week. 

The federal agency announced the strategic pause on December 13, 2017.

“The purpose of the pause is to conduct an additional and external assessment of national interoperability language contained in the Request for Proposal that would ultimately support an EHR contract award,” stated Shulkin in prepared testimony.

“MITRE is in the process of capturing the recommendations and comments provided during the January 5, 2018 interoperability forum and will submit a final report to the VA Secretary and other stakeholders for review by the end of January 2018,” said Shulkin.

The assessment team included a group of clinicians, CIOs, and CEOs from across the healthcare industry.

While contract negotiations are on hold, the federal agency is still moving forward with preparations for the transition from its homegrown VistA EHR to the new commercial system.

According to a newly released GAO report, VA has made decisions about the organizations and individuals that will play a role in governing the EHR modernization (EHRM) program.

“[The] department has developed a preliminary description of the organizations that are to be responsible for governing the EHRM program,” stated the report. “Further, the VA Secretary announced in congressional testimony in November 2017 that the Executive Director for the Electronic Health Records Modernization System will report directly to the department’s Deputy Secretary.”

VA has also developed a preliminary timeline for deploying the EHR system to VA care sites, including a 90-day schedule outlining key program activities.

“The department also has begun documenting the EHRM program risks,” stated report authors.

The federal agency will also complete a full suite of planning and acquisition management documents to inform the EHR modernization program. Planning documents will contain a life cycle cost estimate and an integrated master schedule laying out milestones for the project.

“To this end, the Executive Director told us that VA has awarded program management contracts to support the development of these plans to MITRE Corporation and Booz Allen Hamilton,” wrote report authors.

VA has also started reviewing its 2014 Vista Evolution Roadmap as part of plans to support remaining enhancements to the VistA system. The federal agency will continue to update and maintain VistA for users still operating on the system over the course of the multi-year implementation process.

“According to the Executive Director, the department intends to complete the development of its plans for EHRM within 90 days after award of the Cerner contract, which is anticipated to occur in early 2018,” maintained report authors.

GAO ultimately opted not to make any recommendations to VA about the VistA EHR replacement.

“Because the department’s activities have included meaningful action to develop such plans, and the program’s Executive Director has stated that these plans will be completed within 90 days of awarding the modernization contract, we are not making any recommendations at this time,” stated the report.

DoD has also put its modernization efforts on hold following persistent complaints about its own Cerner EHR, MHS Genesis. 

The rollout is being stalled for the next eight weeks while the federal agency assesses problems with clinician workflows. According to a DoD spokesperson, pausing the project will allow Cerner and DoD to get the MHS Genesis implementation back on track.  

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