- Having a new EHR system is the first step to modernizing the VA appointment system, and is an area that will be a top priority, VA Secretary nominee Robert Wilkie said in his confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Improving access to care through implementation of the MISSION Act and transformative IT modernization will also be key focal points, he explained in testimony.
VA also needs to reduce the backlog of claims and payments and undergo business transformation in areas like reforming the human resource systems, Wilkie stated.
“The interoperability of the new electronic health records system will connect VA to the DOD, private doctors and private pharmacies to create a continuum of care and organize the healthcare around our veteran’s needs,” he said. “This is also our opportunity to turn the corner and be an industry leader on opioid abuse intervention and suicide prevention.”
Wilkie appeared before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs on Wednesday, and was urged by multiple members of Congress to explain how he would transform VA for the better and ensure necessary reforms take place.
Senate Committee Chairman Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) stressed that permanent VA leadership was necessary, and that he hoped the nomination would move along quickly so critical pieces of legislation could be implemented.
“We hope if everything goes smoothly, we’ll have a secretary in the near future sitting in the president’s cabinet for the VA who will begin building forward on the legislation this committee has passed in the last two years to make caregivers possible, accountability possible, better health care for our veterans possible, [and who will see to it that we have accessibility] for veterans who live in rural, sparsely populated areas [and that they] are cared for,” Isakson said.
He added that “failure is not an option,” and that excuses can no longer be accepted for why VA problems are not being fixed.
Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) said that Wilkie will need to be held responsible for the bipartisan MISSION Act, which needs to be implemented with more transparency than the Accountability Act.
“Congress has provided the VA ample time to roll out the MISSION Act and to get it done right,” Tester said in his opening statement. “If it doesn’t happen, the buck stops with you. Congress and veterans will hold you accountable. I hope you understand that.”
“I’m already concerned that the Department isn’t as ready as it should be for this monumental undertaking.”
The VA MISSION Act includes policies for improved health data exchange at agency care sites, enabling better-informed clinical decision-making and reducing opioid overuse among veteran patients.
Specifically, the Act includes a $55 billion package funding a five-year commitment to resolve problems within VA healthcare including prescription drug monitoring, health data access for community care providers, and health data exchange between VA care sites and care sites in the private sector.
VA will also be able to share EHR data with non-VA healthcare providers “for the purpose of providing health care to patients or performing other health care related activities.”
MISSION would also require VA to implement a process to ensure community care providers are able to access relevant patient medical history information, including medication prescription information.
The legislation would enable an additional 640,000 veterans to receive care outside VA care facilities, according to The Congressional Budget Office.
The Senate passed the legislation by a 92-5 vote, and the bill is expected to reach the president’s desk by Memorial Day.
Wilkie served as acting VA secretary starting on March 28 until President Trump officially nominated Wilkie to lead the agency in late May. Wilkie is currently serving as Department of Defense (DoD) undersecretary.