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New report sheds light on problems with VA EHR system

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | November 24, 2021
Health IT

Launched in 2018, the project is designed to replace the VA’s old EHR system and provide faster and seamless access to care for veterans after they leave military service. Cerner was chosen to complete it and signed one of the largest IT contracts in the federal government’s history. Initially estimated to cost $10 billion, the cost for the project was later upgraded to $16 billion.

The report follows the VA’s announcement last month to conduct an independent cost estimate to determine how much it can expect to spend on the project. The decision was motivated by concerns about the project’s funding, with a report in May estimating that the agency may be short by as much as $2.6 billion for infrastructure upgrades, including electrical work, cabling and heating, ventilation and cooling. Another, in July, found an additional deficit of $2.5 billion for IT infrastructure needs such as system interfaces and end-user devices, according to Nextgov. Together, the two estimate that the VA may be short by as much as $5.1 billion.

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In response to the reports, the VA said it would work with the Office of the Inspector General over the next year to improve planning and coordination. The independent cost estimate will take into account these IT and physical infrastructure upgrades. Legislation known as the VA Electronic Health Record Transparency Act was also introduced in July. Under it, the VA must regularly report its EHR expenses until the project is completed.

The COVID-19 pandemic also delayed the project in early 2020, with work resuming in August of that year. Another six-month delay was initiated in July 2021 following training failures, data migration problems, and concerns over patient safety at the site in Spokane.

The system is currently live at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane and the VA Central Ohio Healthcare System in Columbus.

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