VA’s EHR transition could take up to a decade

It could take up to a decade for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fully implement a new off-the-shelf EHR system, according to one senior official.

Poonam Alaigh, M.D., the VA’s acting undersecretary for health, told lawmakers in a House subcommittee on Thursday that the health system’s migration to Cerner’s MHS Genesis system looks like a “5-10 year project at this point.”

RELATED: VA will move on from VistA, adopt Cerner EHR system to align with DOD

Alaigh promised to share the VA’s high-level implementation plan with lawmakers once it’s finished. VA Secretary David Shulkin has said he wants to implement the new EHR system faster than the Department of Defense.

In the short term, Alaigh said the VA is planning for 3 to 6 months to negotiate the contract with Cerner and then two years to focus on change management. Beyond that, the actual integration from VistA to Cerner’s system will require a lot of work to ensure all patient data is transferred and making sure physicians know how to use the system. Year three is also when the agency will ask for “significant additional funding,” she said.

RELATED: Shulkin will use DOD tools, personnel to speed VA's transition to a new EHR system

“This is not something you just do with the turn of a switch,” Alaigh said. “This is something that has to be done very carefully.”

That kind of timeline is not uncommon for a large-scale EHR transfer, Alaigh added, particularly given the size of the VA system. Earlier this week, Shulkin told a Senate committee he doesn’t know what the final cost of the system will be.