The Department of Veterans Affairs will start to install a new Cerner electronic health record system about a year and a half after the VA negotiates a contract with the vendor. However, it will take the agency seven to eight years to fully implement the commercial EHR.

“It will be 18 months from the time that the contract is complete to the first site in VA goes up,” testified VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, during Tuesday’s hearing before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Although the agency has not commented publicly on how much Cerner’s Millennium EHR will cost to replace its Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), the VA is expected to close a deal with Cerner next month in the form of a no-bid, sole source contract.

“We’ve given Congress a 30-day notification of our intent to negotiate a contract that would give us the true interoperability with the Department of Defense,” Shulkin told lawmakers, emphasizing that the EHR platform from Cerner is the same one that DoD is currently implementing.

David Shulkin

Also See: DoD rolls out Cerner EHR to Madigan Army Medical Center

Full deployment of DoD’s new EHR is slated for completion in 2022. Asked how long it will take to achieve enterprise-wide installation of the VA’s Cerner system, Shulkin said, “We are thinking seven to eight years.” Using that estimate, the earliest the VA would complete the implementation is late 2024.

But, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) expressed his skepticism that the agency could implement the new EHR systemwide in that timeframe. “This is not a scientific analysis, but I have yet to see a VA budget for time or cost (not) exceeded,” said O’Rourke. “It usually goes beyond the budgeted time, beyond the budgeted cost.”

“This is a new VA, congressman,” countered Shulkin.

The VA chief also informed the congressional panel that the agency issued a request for information last week in the Federal Register “for industry to help us with interoperability for community providers—this is a total package where that’s what we seek—real and full true interoperability for veterans.”

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