Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has announced that the VA will replace VistA with a commercial off-the-shelf EHR system manufactured by Cerner to improve interoperability with the Department of Defense.
Well ahead of the self-imposed July 1 deadline, Shulkin reiterated his desire to get the VA “out of the software business” according to a statement released by the agency. The VA will transition from its in-house medical records system to MHS Genesis, the EHR system that is currently being rolled out at the DOD.
In doing so, Shulkin signed a “Determination and Findings” form that allows the VA to bypass its requirement for full and open competition from EHR vendors. He said the urgency of the agency’s EHR modernization efforts are too significant to shop for vendors.
“When DOD went through this acquisition process in 2014 it took far too long,” he said. “The entire EHR acquisition process, starting from requirements generation until contract award, took approximately 26 months. We simply can’t afford to wait that long when it comes to the health of our veterans.”
Shulkin noted that the VA won’t adopt an identical version of the DOD’s system, but a “similar Cerner platform,” given the unique needs of the VA system. He also said clinicians would be “very involved” in the implementation process.
“Without improved and consistently implemented national interoperability standards, VA and DOD will continue to face significant challenges if the Departments remain on two different systems,” Shulkin said.
The move is likely to please lawmakers who recently pushed Shulkin to align the VA’s EHR system with the DOD. The VA secretary repeatedly hinted that he wanted to move to a commercial, off-the-shelf system, but left open the possibility of allowing a vendor to take over the management of VistA. Among EHR users, Cerner was the runaway favorite to replace the decades-old system.
“You could be the best VA secretary of all time if you just solve this one problem,” Rep. Thomas Rooney, R-Fla., told Shulkin during a hearing last month, referring to IT integration with the DOD.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who had been a strong advocate of an off-the-shelf system, said in a statement that he was “encouraged by the announcement,” adding that “VA’s antiquated IT systems have stood between veterans and the care they deserve for far too long.”
Up next will be the financial piece of the puzzle. Last week, Shulkin indicated the VA will need more funding from Congress to implement a VistA replacement, but exactly how much remains to be seen. The DOD spent $4.3 billion to implement MHS Genesis.