VA's EHR project is 'yellow trending towards red,' says report obtained by ProPublica | EHR and Health IT Consulting | Scoop.it

The Department of Veterans Affairs' EHR contract with Cerner has been plagued by multiple roadblocks during the past year, including personnel issues and changing expectations, according to a ProPublica investigation.

 

Former VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, released the agency's plan to scrap its homegrown EHR VistA for a Cerner system during a news briefing in June 2017. Almost one year later, the VA finalized a $10 billion no-bid contract with Cerner to implement its EHR systemwide over a 10-year period, beginning with a set of test sites in March 2020.

 

However, a recent progress report by Cerner rated its EHR project with the VA at alert level "yellow trending towards red," according to ProPublica. To investigate the underlying factors that have contributed to the EHR project's problems, the publication reviewed internal documents and conducted interviews with current and former VA officials, congressional staff and outside experts.

 

Here are five details from ProPublica's investigation:

1. When Dr. Shulkin initially announced his plan to implement Cerner at the VA, he emphasized the EHR would provide "seamless care" to veterans, since the Department of Defense had also recently signed a contract with Cerner. However, in September 2017, the VA convened a panel of industry experts who objected to this claim, noting two health systems using Cerner doesn't mean they will be able to share all data with one another.

 

2. At another meeting, Cerner representatives gave a presentation on how their software would be able to share data with private providers, three people present told ProPublica. However, Dr. Shulkin noticed the representatives were only talking about prescription data, rather than the full record of health data, lab reports and medical images that the VA would need. Dr. Shulkin reportedly cut the meeting short and told Cerner to come back with a better solution.

 

3. Cerner's off-the-shelf product didn't match the VA's EHR needs, according to ProPublica. While Cerner's software successfully helps private hospitals bill insurers, the VA doesn't need these same functionalities, since the agency serves as the sole payer for its patient population. Cerner's product also didn't have features for some of the VA's core specialties, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, since these conditions aren't as common in the general population.

 

4. Dr. Shulkin, who left the VA in March, reportedly wanted to find a CIO with a background in healthcare and experience leading major software transitions to helm the EHR project. The VA enlisted two search firms, which identified several qualified candidates, according to sources who spoke with ProPublica. However, the Presidential Personnel Office rejected them, and the White House instead proposed candidates who had worked on the Trump campaign but didn't have a background in health IT.

 

5. At a recent subcommittee hearing, some lawmakers questioned the VA's work on the Cerner project and asked whether the DOD should head up its implementation. Instead, the VA and DOD secretaries opted to sign a joint statement Sept. 26 pledging to align their EHR strategies. However, industry experts warned ProPublica that the agencies have different medical priorities, as the DOD treats young people with acute injuries while the VA provides long-term care to those with complex illnesses.

 

VA spokesman Curt Cashour declined to answer specific questions from ProPublica, saying that "efforts thus far have been successful and we are confident they will continue to be successful." The White House didn't provide answers to a list of questions ProPublica sent, and Cerner also declined to comment.