VA, Congress create panels to oversee EHR implementation

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With the recent award to Cerner of a $10 billion electronic health record modernization contract by the Department of Veterans Affairs, both the VA and Congress are taking steps to ensure that the implementation of the EHR system receives sufficient oversight.

Last week, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs formally approved the creation of a new Subcommittee on Technology Modernization to provide oversight of the VA’s rollout of the Cerner Millennium platform, which will replace the agency’s decades-old Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture.

“As the department embarks on the nation’s largest EHR overhaul, it is critical that we ensure veterans and taxpayers are protected throughout the transition,” said Phil Roe, MD (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“I have personally gone through a transition to a new health record system when I was in private practice, and I know how much potential there is for a project like this to be a costly disruption,” Roe added. “Congress has a duty to conduct rigorous oversight every step of the way. Rep. Jim Banks will chair this subcommittee, and he will be joined by subcommittee Ranking Member Conor Lamb, Reps. Jack Bergman, Mike Coffman and Scott Peters.”

Also See: New House subcommittee to hold VA EHR program accountable

Likewise, the VA announced last week that it has established the Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization (OEHRM) to manage the preparation, deployment and maintenance of the Cerner EHR system.

“As technology and the needs of our veterans evolve, we must also evolve our systems to support better care for our veterans,” said the VA’s Acting Secretary Peter O’Rourke in a written statement. “This office is dedicated entirely to our electronic health record modernization, and will bring significant and diverse expertise to get VA to the end state that will allow medical records to transition seamlessly for service members departing active duty into veteran status.”

The office will be headed by Genevieve Morris, who is currently on loan to VA from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT where she served as the principal deputy national coordinator.

“OEHRM, the Veterans Health Administration and the Office of Information and Technology will continue to collaborate closely to ensure this important transition is as smooth as possible for our veterans, clinicians and staff,” said Morris in a written statement. “We are working hard to configure and design a system focused on quality, safety and patient outcomes, which will allow health IT innovations within one VA facility to be used across the entire VA healthcare system.”

The agency expects the system implementation for the initial operating capability sites to begin October 1, with an estimated completion date of March 2020. Cerner’s EHR will be rolled out enterprisewide as part of a 10-year contract.

According to the latest VA data provided to Congress, the total cost to implement the new EHR system over 10 years will be $15.8 billion—$10 billion for the Cerner contract, $4.6 billion for infrastructure improvements and $1.2 billion for contractor program management support services.

The VA intends to create a single common EHR system with Department of Defense by leveraging a shared Cerner Millennium platform. The agency’s planned acquisition calls for aligning the deployment and implementation of the system with DoD’s ongoing rollout of its own system—called MHS GENESIS, which is in the pilot phase.

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