The Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments plan to create a joint office that will have decision-making authority for their co-developed health record system, leaders told lawmakers on Wednesday.
After months of congressional criticsm and requests for a proposed joint governance structure for the massive project, the agencies said they are creating Federal EHR Modernization Program Management Office as a "single point of authority" for EHR implementations.
The office's director will report to both agencies equally, Dr. Lauren Thompson, director of the DoD-VA Interagency Program Office, told the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's technology subcommittee during a hearing Wednesday.
The VA plans to implement the same EHR version as the Defense Department, which kicked off an EHR go-live with Cerner in 2017, as a way to simplify recordkeeping for military members who transition to the VA system. This effort has required ongoing co-development and collaboration between the two agencies.
Last week, Cerner Corp. executives told the subcommittee that the VA and Defense Department needed a more streamlined decision-making process for a successful EHR rollout.
That's troubling because "more often than not, technology was not the problem" in previous failed IT projects in the federal government, Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.) said at Wednesday's hearing. "Rather, it was a failure of leadership and management."
Thompson said the DoD-VA Interagency Program Office will continue to support the agencies as they transition to the new office's oversight.
But there's still many unknowns. The VA and Defense Department haven't released a timeline for when it will name leadership for the office. John Windom, executive director of the VA's Office of EHR Modernization, declined to comment on when that timeline will be delivered to the subcommittee.
Windom said the VA is on schedule to deploy on the EHR at its first sites in March 2020, with plans for a decade-long implementation across the system. The VA will begin by installing the system in regions already live on the Defense Department's EHR, to "immediately demonstrate interoperability," he said.
The biggest barrier to a successful EHR go-live in March 2020 is not technology, but ensuring user adoption, he said.
"The technology will work," he said. "The embracing of the end-user to our change management strategy, our education strategy, our training strategy, that's our critical path element."