Democrats seek investigation into VA-Cerner contract negotiations
Several members of Congress asked the VA's acting secretary and inspector general to investigate why the agency's EHR system contract with Cerner has been delayed.
The Veterans Affairs Department announced nearly a year ago plans to replace its homegrown VistA system with a Cerner electronic health record system.. But the contract with the EHR vendor remains unsigned after several delays.
Four Democratic members of the House of Representatives asked VA Inspector General Michael Missal to investigate whether President Donald Trump's unofficial advisers meddled in the VA Office of Information and Technology's work, citing a recent Politico report suggesting they caused the most recent lag.
"The modernization of the VA's health information technology infrastructure is one of the most critical initiatives for the future of VA healthcare," wrote Reps. Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire, and Mark Takano, Julia Brownley and Jose Luis Correa, all of California.
The four lawmakers voiced concern about a lack of interoperability, which contributed to the Government Accountability Office placing the VA on its high-risk list.
Missal expressed a similar concern to senators in March 2017, telling a panel the VA "needs to find a more effective method for sharing patients' EHRs."
The Democrats pointed out that the VA and the Defense Department, which is also implementing a Cerner EHR, cannot share data efficiently.
"Simply put, updating the VA's EHR is too important to the health and well-being of the 9 million veterans enrolled in VA healthcare for the process to be stymied by interference from outside political forces," they wrote.
In a separate letter, the lawmakers asked acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie for information about the contract and the agency's plans to finalize it. Specifically, they asked for information about Mitre Corp.'s contract assessment, which included reviewing interoperability provisions. Former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin asked to pause contract negotiations until the organization completed the assessment, which happened in February. The VA amended its solicitation the following month, shortly before the Trump administration ousted Shulkin.
Cerner executives still have hope that the contract will come through. Cerner President Zane Burke told investors during an earnings call Wednesday that he expects the contract will be signed during the second half of the year. The company took a hit to its earnings and revenue in the first quarter of 2018 because of the delay.
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