VA preps for the 'largest implementation of a healthcare system EHR ever' as it wraps up Cerner negotiations

The Department of Veterans Affairs spent more than $1 billion on contracts to upgrade its electronic health records system and better share data with the Department of Defense, according to a new report.  The VA's switch to its new Cerner EHR also carries a hefty price tag: around $10 billion over a decade, officials said at a congressional hearing.

The Government Accountability Office found that the VA contracted with 138 vendors between fiscal years 2011 and 2016 as part of its Integrated Electronic Health Record program with the DoD and its VistA Evolution initiative. 

"The use of IT is crucial to helping VA effectively serve the nation's veterans and, each year, the department spends billions of dollars on its information systems and assets," the GAO said. "However, VA has faced challenges spanning a number of critical initiatives related to modernizing its major systems." 

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The VA has decided to move on from VistA and adopt a commercial system developed by Cerner, which is aimed at improving interoperability with DoD. 

Health IT representatives from the VA testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Information Technology earlier this week, and said that the switch to the Cerner system will cost $10 billion over 10 years. 

When the DoD contracted with Cerner for its EHR, the department awarded a $4.3 billion contract to a team led by Health IT company Leidos. However, the VA's healthcare system is significantly larger—about three times that of the DoD. 

A larger patient population also requires more services, the officials said. 

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The VA is still negotiating with Cerner and hopes to have a contract nailed down soon, VA officials said at the hearing. 

"This is going to be the largest implementation of a healthcare system EHR ever, and it's going to be a really big undertaking," Scott Blackburn, acting CIO for the VA, told lawmakers. "The key difference between previous efforts is we're going to be buying a commercial off-the-shelf solution and absolutely minimizing the customization." 

A video of the full hearing is embedded below: