VA starts training program for new Cerner EHR system

The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to ensure that VA personnel are properly trained to support the agency’s 10-year Electronic Health Record Modernization initiative.

Under the newly launched VA Innovative Technology Advancement Lab (VITAL) training program, the agency has selected 76 initial trainees for advanced training; they will support continuous performance improvement and seek to address real-world healthcare challenges. As the decade-long deployment continues, participants will be added, according to the VA.

For the first cohort of VITAL, 76 trainees were selected from among more than 40 point-of-care clinical and support roles at the Electronic Health Record Modernization’s initial operating capabilities sites, including Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle and Tacoma, and other Veterans Integrated Service Network facilities in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington state.

“VITAL was designed to increase EHRM adoption and speed-to-value, promote standardization and optimize the use of advanced analytics,” according to the agency. “The VITAL program consists of four, three-day, in-person sessions across 12 to 18 months, monthly virtual checkpoints and a core capstone project chosen by participants.”

VITAL’s capstone projects are “designed to tackle real-world problems encountered at the participants’ facilities” and “allow them to gain confidence and competence in optimizing EHRM solutions and tools while solving actual problems today and proactively attacking future ones,” contends the agency.

“The VA established VITAL to specially train staff who can identify possible challenges and work across the entire VA organization to make improvements,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a written statement. “VITAL is an important component in our larger training strategy, which will help ensure efficient and timely user adoption of the modernized EHR system.”

VA sec nominee.jpg
Robert Wilkie, secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. The VA has lacked a permanent leader since David Shulkin was ousted as secretary in March and Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson withdrew in April, following allegations of improper behavior in his role as White House physician. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

The VA developed the VITAL training curriculum with Cerner, which last year was awarded a $10 billion contract to replace the agency’s legacy Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) with a commercial-off-the-shelf EHR currently being deployed by the Department of Defense.

Although VITAL is unique to VA, the agency says the training program was developed from lessons learned from DoD’s initial rollout of MHS GENESIS. Both the DoD and VA plan to implement a common Cerner Millennium EHR system.

“Observation of DoD’s GENESIS program has prompted VA to identify key clinical and frontline staff who require advanced training to ensure smooth EHRM implementation, enhance functionality and support continuous performance improvement,” according to the agency. “Examples of other lessons learned from GENESIS include the importance of excusing training participants from clinical responsibilities during training sessions and related responsibilities.”

MHS GENESIS was first launched in 2017 at military medical facilities in the Pacific Northwest. However, the initial rollout of the Cerner Millennium platform to pilot sites was not without some major challenges.

The system was deemed “neither operationally effective nor operationally suitable,” according to a 2018 report from DoD’s director of operational test and evaluation, which was based on an assessment of three of four pilot sites in Washington state.

However, DoD contends that after “rigorous testing, training and change management efforts during its rollout”—including enhanced training—it is now “confident all issues have been rectified."

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