The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plans to launch a test pilot for the initial operating capabilities of its new electronic health record (EHR) system by March 2020, VA officials told members of the US House of Representatives’ House Appropriations subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies at a hearing last Wednesday. The pilot would take place across three sites in the Pacific Northwest, according to Nextgov.
The VA has faced several hurdles on the journey to develop its own EHR system. Lawmakers are looking for results, as the VA is well past the billion dollar mark of investment in the project at this point. There are 131 nationwide instances of the VA’s current EHR platform, Vista, that need to be mapped to the new Cerner platform it has purchased. So far, 22 data domains have been mapped, John Windom, executive director of the VA’s Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization, told lawmakers at the hearing. However, Windom explained that he could not say how long it took to map a single instance of the old Vista-based VA records to the new Cerner platform.
“It’s a bit shocking that nobody knows how long that process took because the two complaints you’re going to hear are that it’s taking too long and it’s costing too much,” said Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) at the hearing.
Echoing concerns voiced in a September 2018 open letter from Rep. Jim Banks (R-Indiana), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) called out the lack of steady leadership at the agency, asking how long it would take for the agency find a permanent deputy secretary—a leadership role ultimately responsible for the EHR project—rather than the current string of interim leaders.
“Those decisions are up to the president and secretary,” said James Byrne, VA general counsel and the person currently performing the deputy secretary duties. “We all roll in and roll out, that’s why we put a major emphasis on the governance construct.”
Windom did not have a definitive answer for Wasserman Schultz when she asked how the issue of interoperability between the VA system and the Department of Defense system would be addressed.
Sarah Sheber is assistant editor/web editor at Journal of AHIMA.