LaVerne Council: VA officials evaluating EHR recommendations

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) CIO for the Office of Information Technology LaVerne Council said Thursday that the VA this summer will go into more detail on its future electronic health record plans.

At a hearing held by the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health, Council said Veterans Health Administration Under Secretary for Health David Shulkin is in the process of evaluating her recommendation for a "state-of-the-art, world class" EHR system. While Council was light on details, she did say the system is "incredibly responsive," agile and leverages Health Level Seven International's Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard.

"We can bring things in, we can use them, we can change them, we can respond," said Council, who added that the tool is "an innovative solution based on industry experts coming back and assessing it as that."

Council previously has discussed the possibility of replacing the Veterans Health Information System and Technology Architecture (VistA), the agency's homegrown EHR system, with a commercial, off-the-shelf product, similar to what the Department of Defense is doing via a contract awarded last summer to a team led by Leidos, Cerner and Accenture.

Council and Shulkin also discussed ongoing efforts around the use of two scheduling systems--the Veteran Appointment Request (VAR) mobile application and the VistA Scheduling Enhancement (VSE) system. Shulkin reiterated a statement made by Council at a House Oversight & Government Reform committee hearing last month that, should VAR and VSE be deemed successful, the VA will use those solutions to improve scheduling efforts over the much broader Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS), for which Systems Made Simple and Epic won a $624 million contract last August. Shulkin said the entire VSE project would cost taxpayers a total of $6.4 million, whereas just to pilot MASS over roughly a year, it would cost $152 million.  

To date, $11.8 million has been spent on MASS, which is on hold while VAR and VSE are tested over the next couple of months, Shulkin said.

"Our goal is to give veterans tools today," he said. "We still have an access crisis and we have to act with the urgency that I think all of you have asked us to act with."

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) noted that while the savings sound intriguing, she wants assurances that VAR and VSE would be sufficient over the more robust MASS system before abandoning it.

"We want long-term savings, long-term accessibility," Kuster said. The frustration Congress has, she said, is that it keeps hearing about great systems that are implemented halfway before ultimately being ditched.

To learn more:
- watch the hearing

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