- VA Secretary David Shulkin announced the federal agency will award its EHR implementation contract to Cerner Corporation in the next thirty days.
The announcement came during the recent Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing last week. The new VA EHR system will operate on a similar platform as the Department of Defense (DoD) EHR system—MHS Genesis—in an effort to improve interoperability between agencies.
“We released to Congress—to you—30-day notice of award of a contract,” said Shulkin. “We are keeping on the timeline that we talked about. We’re marching forward. We have the principles. I have some updates to share with you on the strategic IT plan, because I think we are making a lot of progress with that.”
In June, three senators submitted a letter to Shulkin and DoD Secretary James Mattis requesting more information about the Cerner EHR replacement, as well as a projected timeline.
Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) emphasized the importance of an efficient integrated health system.
In this most recent discussion of the upcoming project, Shulkin stated part of VA’s strategic plan will involve phasing out 80 percent of VA’s other projects currently in development. The federal department will migrate or cease work on 240 of its 299 projects.
“By concentrating on some specific IT modernization initiatives, like [electronic health record modernization, financial management business transformation], etc., and leveraging cloud and digital platforms, the 80 percent reduction of ongoing development projects is expected to occur within 18 months, which is part of the overall IT modernization roadmap,” VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour told Federal News Radio in an email.
VA has not stated how much the Cerner EHR implementation will cost. However, the VA IT office must contend with the $215 million budget cut in the President’s fiscal 2018 proposal. An appropriations bill for 2018 designated $78.6 billion in discretionary funding for VA healthcare modernization and improvements.
In an effort to better utilize funds, a source close to the department stated VA is ceasing development on less pressing projects and instead allocating those funds to the new Cerner system.
While VA has not released any information about how much the system will cost, the federal department has outlined its priorities for the new Cerner EHR and indicated other tools necessary to optimize the system.
“We haven’t gotten to defining which specific tools they are yet, and how we’re going to meet those needs,” Shulkin said. “We’ve talked about the days of VA being a software developer are over, and we’re going to be looking at off the shelf, current technologies. There’s going to be a lot more definition on that.”
Shulkin also emphasized the need for experienced political leadership and assistance from the private sector to offer guidance during the implementation process.
“This is a big, complex organization,” Shulkin told reporters following the hearing. “I need the best team possible. I need my nominees, all my political appointments to clear through the vetting process and then to go through their confirmation if it’s required. And I need additional people from the private sector who want to come and serve their country to get in touch, because we need the A team on this.”
Toward this end, Cerner created an Advisory Group last month to offer insights and recommendations during the EHR modernization that includes former government, military, and private sector leaders.
“Our Veterans deserve continuous access to their medical records while in the service and afterward, whether they are seen in VA or a private health care system,” said former Nebraska Senator and Governor Bob Kerrey, who will chair the group. “I received years of treatment from VA and have firsthand experience with the challenges veterans often face when receiving care.”
Other members of the group include Former VA CEO and Assistant Secretary of Information and Technology Roger Baker and former National Coordinator and Acting Assistant Secretary for Health Karen DeSalvo, MD.