VA, Cerner restart $16B EHR overhaul with planned October go-live

health IT
The VA signed a $10 billion deal with Cerner in May 2018 to move from the VA’s customized VistA platform to an off-the-shelf EHR to align the country’s largest health system. (eggeeggjiew/Getty Images)

The Department of Veterans Affairs and Cerner are resuming a massive medical records project with a new go-live date in October.

In early April, the VA hit pause on its $16 billion electronic health record overhaul due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency is working to transition from its customized VistA platform to a Cerner EHR system. 

At the time, it marketed the second delay in several months. The VA decided in mid-February to push off its go-live date for the new EHR at its first VA hospital.

The VA had planned to flip the switch on the new EHR at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington on March 28. The VA then said it was delaying those plans to commence end-user training. 

The VA signed a $10 billion deal with Cerner in May 2018 to move from the VA’s customized VistA platform to an off-the-shelf EHR to align the country’s largest health system with the Department of Defense, which has already started integrating Cerner’s MHS Genesis system.

RELATED: Federal watchdog says VA's March EHR go-live date was 'unrealistic'

For the VA, the Cerner EHR will replace the approximately 130 operational instances of VistA currently in use across the department. While the initial EHR contract signed with Cerner was for $10 billion, the VA has pushed the estimated 10-year cost for implementing the system past $16 billion.

In a press release late last week, the VA announced a revised schedule with updated timelines for deployments. 

VA’s Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization (OEHRM) is restarting its work at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane working toward an October implementation of the department’s new Cerner medical records system, seven months after initially scheduled.

The agency also plans to launch a new patient-scheduling system at VA Central Ohio Healthcare System in Columbus this month.

RELATED: Lawmakers irked at lack of transparency from VA after Cerner EHR project delay

The VA said its 10-year implementation schedule would not change nor the overall cost estimates of the EHR modernization program.

After the go-live at Mann-Grandstaff, the VA plans to deploy the new EHR system at other facilities. The agency is focused on select Midwest facilities that feature a balance of small, medium and large sites in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan for the next deployments, the agency said.

There are additional facility go-lives scheduled for next year, a Cerner spokesman said.

“After a period of delay during which VAMCs focused on their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are pleased to have our Electronic Health Record Modernization team resume activities with our facilities to move forward with a program that will transform VA and enhance Veteran care,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a statement.

"As we implement the new EHR solution at these facilities, we will continue to prioritize the safety of our Veterans and our staff by following guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19," Wilkie said.

A Cerner spokesman said work on the EHR project had continued during the past few months though access to sites and their frontline staff was limited.

The health IT company said it pushed forward on critical elements of the program including but not limited to: launching the new joint HIE (health information exchange), technical build, interfaces, and IP and program management.

In late April, the VA and DOD unveiled a joint health information exchange to enable medical providers at both agencies to share patient data with private sector healthcare organizations.

RELATED: VA asking for $1.2B more to continue Cerner EHR project

The joint HIE enables interoperable health information sharing between VA, DOD and community providers.

Government watchdogs and Congressional leaders continue to have concerns about the project including infrastructure issues and leadership challenges.

A VA inspector general report released in April found that VA medical centers require significant upgrades to physical and information technology (IT) infrastructure in preparation for the EHR implementation. 

The OIG found that critical physical and information technology infrastructure upgrades had not been completed at Mann-Grandstaff and associated facilities six months before the specified system deployment date, as guidance suggested.

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