VA delays first go-live of Cerner EHR system as project takes longer than expected

The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA's) $16 billion electronic health record (EHR) system will not go live in March as initially planned.

The VA had planned to flip the switch on the new EHR at its first site—Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington—on March 28.

The VA is delaying plans to commence end-user training scheduled for this week, which may impact “going live” with its EHR in March in Washington, VA spokesperson Christina Mandreucci told FierceHealthcare in an emailed statement.

"After rigorous testing of our new EHR, the department will need more time to complete the system build and ensure clinicians and other users are properly trained on it," Mandreucci said.

"We believe we are 75-80% complete in this regard and will be announcing a revised 'go-live' schedule in the coming weeks," she said.

RELATED: (Another) roadblock identified in VA, DOD transition to Cerner EHR

The EHR rollout will be pushed back at least until the end of April, FCW reported Monday.

Former VA Deputy Secretary James Byrne testified during a House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee hearing in November that he was confident the VA would have a successful go-live of the new Cerner EHR at its first pilot site, the Spokane medical center.

The VA's delay comes a week after Byrne's abrupt dismissal. In his five months at the agency, Byrne was a key leader updating members of Congress on the progress and challenges of the implementation.

Asked about the status of the project at a Feb. 5 press conference, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said Byrne's departure "will not impact it at all."

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. For the VA, the Cerner EHR will replace the approximately 130 operational instances of VistA currently in use across the department.

In February 2017, DOD rolled out the first MHS Genesis EHR at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington. It was followed closely by implementations at Naval Hospital Oak Harbor, Naval Hospital Bremerton and Madigan Army Medical Center.

FCW reported that a source who had been briefed on the matter said the configuration for the Cerner health record is still incomplete. 

RELATED: Lawmakers fear lack of governance of DOD-VA EHR project will derail progress

"Interfaces between Cerner, VA's existing Vista electronic health record system and VA's IT infrastructure are still being developed, and that work has proven to be more of a slog than had been hoped," FCW reported, citing sources.

Additionally, the VA was faced with the prospect of training Spokane employees on an unfinished system—so the agency opted to cancel scheduled training, according to FCW.

Lawmakers charged with oversight of the VA's technology projects have questioned the department's readiness to go live by March given the VA's track record with past technology projects and the serious challenges with the DOD's initial EHR deployment.

Members of Congress have urged the VA not to rush its EHR modernization efforts, Mandreucci said.

"VA leaders have heard that call, and are proceeding deliberately and thoughtfully to adhere to the project’s ten-year timeline, which calls for a rolling implementation schedule through 2027," she said.

"VA should take the time it needs to get this $16 billion dollar implementation right, but it needs to be transparent with Congress," Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, chairman of the House VA Committee, said in a statement, FCW reported. "We are all charged to work on behalf of our nation’s veterans—a short-term delay is far better than rushing through a critical EHR transition that will strongly impact veterans’ lives."

VA requested $2.6 billion for the EHR modernization project in its fiscal year 2021 budget. That's up from $1.5 billion in the prior year.