Shulkin confirms VA will transition to commercial EHR

Less than a month after he was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, M.D., said the VA is officially switching to a commercial, off-the-shelf EHR system, replacing its frequently maligned VistA software.

Shulkin made the announcement during a hearing before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs discussing the VA’s Choice Program aimed at improving community health options for veterans.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that VA building its own software products and doing its own software development inside is not a good way to pursue this—we need to move towards commercially tested products,” Shulkin said. “If somebody could explain to me why veterans benefit from VA being a good software developer, then maybe I would change my mind. But right now, we should focus on the things veterans need us to focus on and work with companies that know how to do this better than we do.”

The announcement came as a relief to several committee members who have pushed for the VA to modernize its IT systems. The system has been roundly criticized for its failed VistA system and, over the past year, VA officials have openly acknowledged the agency’s IT failures.

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Accompanying Shulkin, Baligh Yehia, M.D., who oversees the VA’s community care program, added that the system is testing processes around the country that would allow community providers to access the VA’s medical records “completely” so veterans are not subjected to multiple tests or prescribed the same medication twice.

“I want the system to be modernized,” Shulkin added later in the hearing. “I believe veterans deserve the very best this country can offer—that means modern IT systems, modern facilities, modern types of programs, and professionals and technology.”

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Last month, Rob Thomas, acting assistant secretary for information technology and CIO for the Office of Information and Technology at the VA, told House committee members that he was “confident” the VA would turn to a commercial solution, but was awaiting Shulkin’s confirmation to get that process underway.

The Secretary’s comments were welcomed by Randall Williamson, director of healthcare at the Government Accountability Office, who also testified before the House committee on Wednesday evening. Williamson said IT is probably the number one issue facing the VA and switching to a commercial system is a key first step in easing some of the ongoing interoperability issues.

“I think Secretary Shulkin’s willingness to look at commercially available off-the-shelf systems is a really good move,” he said. “Even with that, they still have to integrate with legacy systems.”