This article by Leo Shane III originally appeared on Military Times, the nation's largest independent newsroom dedicated to covering the military and veteran community.
Veterans Affairs officials are again delaying further deployment of their new electronic health records system amid ongoing issues with the new software, this time pushing back any new site rollouts until June 2023.
In a message to the VA workforce Oct. 13, Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said the delay is needed “to address challenges with the system and make sure it is functioning optimally for veterans and for VA health care personnel.”
In June, department officials announced a halt to all new deployments of the Oracle-Cerner Millennium electronic health record system until early 2023 because of patient safety issues that occurred in the first five sites using the software.
“Over the coming months, we will implement an ‘assess and address’ period to correct outstanding issues with the new system — especially those that may have patient safety implications — before restarting deployments at other VA medical centers,” Elnahal wrote in his message to staff.
“In the meantime, VA will continue to focus on the five facilities where the new system has already been deployed to ensure every patient is getting the world-class health care they deserve.”
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VA officials will also send letters in coming weeks to patients who “may have been impacted by these system challenges” to make sure they are able to schedule appointments, receive medications and fulfill other medical needs.
The 10-year, $16 billion health records modernization project started in 2017 and was touted as a way to provide better care to troops and veterans throughout their lives.
But the effort has been besieged by problems since its initial implementation. Deployments have been postponed multiple times because of staff training and patient safety issues.
In September, Elnahal told lawmakers on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee that problems with the new system have encouraged some staffers to quit. VA Secretary Denis McDonough has said he is frustrated with the progress so far, and frequent past outages with the software.
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But VA leaders said they are still confident that the Oracle-Cerner plan is the best option for updating the department’s aging health records system.
“VA remains committed to building a [health record] solution that will link with the Department of Defense’s health record system to create a lifetime of seamless care for service members and veterans,” Elnahal wrote. “That end goal is achievable if we take these necessary steps forward.”
In September, Mike Sicilia, executive vice president for Oracle, said officials are making improvements to the system and are working closely on a new deployment schedule to get the project back on track.
He said he still believed a 2028 end date for the project is realistic, but that was assuming a restart in early 2023.
VA officials have been more reserved in their timelines, saying they are focused on getting the training and implementation processes right.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have expressed concerns with the high price tag and low return on investment of the project thus far. Several House committee members told VA officials last month that they need to show results soon or risk having the entire program canceled.
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