Cerner remains confident that VA EHR is on the right track

However, members of Congress warn that the lack of a governance structure between the agency and DoD threatens interoperability efforts.

While the size and complexity of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ rollout of a new Cerner electronic health record won’t be easy, the healthcare IT vendor says it is achievable and they are making progress.

That’s the message Cerner executives presented in testimony on Tuesday before the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization.

“This undertaking is immense—it carries risks, and we don’t take the challenges lightly,” Travis Dalton, president of Cerner Government Services, told lawmakers. “We must deploy to over 1,700 sites, train over 300,000 VA employees, collaborate with DoD, interoperate with the community, aggregate decades of clinical data and update technology.”

In addition, Dalton testified that the implementation of the VA’s new Cerner Millennium system will require moving from 130 disparate systems—under the legacy Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA)—to a single “open, modern, integrated system that’s easier and more efficient to update and maintain.”

Although it was only a little more than a year ago that VA awarded Cerner a $10 billion EHR modernization contract to replace VistA, Dalton pointed out that the vendor has already migrated more than 23 million veterans health records into its data center, marking the first time that the VA’s health data is in the same system as DoD’s health data.

In 2015, DoD awarded a $4.3 billion contract to prime contractor Leidos to modernize the military’s EHR system with Cerner’s Millennium platform. The VA’s own planned acquisition calls for aligning the deployment and implementation of its Cerner system with DoD’s ongoing rollout of its own system—called MHS GENESIS—to create a common EHR that ensures health record interoperability between the two agencies.

“It won’t happen overnight, but we can and will achieve these goals together,” added Dalton.

Also See: DoD, VA pledge to better align plans to create single EHR

However, Susie Lee (D-Nev.), chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, contends that the VA EHR Modernization (EHRM) Program could still fail.

“VA’s inability to manage IT programs and have accountable leadership has plagued many of its recent IT efforts and it threatens EHRM,” said Lee. “The lack of an accountable joint governance structure between the VA and DoD also threatens the success of this project.”

According to Lee, the role and responsibilities of the Interagency Program Office—created by law to act as a single point of accountability for DoD-VA interoperability efforts—has not been clearly defined.

“After months of requesting information, we have yet to receive anything of substance about a proposal to address the non-functioning Interagency Program Office,” Lee observed. “What we have heard is not promising. It sounds like it is the status quo with a new name.”

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, agreed with Lee that the lack of progress on the Interagency Program Office remains a troubling challenge for DoD-VA interoperability efforts.

“VA and DoD opted for a single, common system but—after nine months of haggling and jockeying for power—a suitable single, common management structure has still not yet emerged,” said Banks. “Frustratingly, the departments have refused to share virtually any information with Congress.”

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