The Veterans Affairs Department has delayed plans to begin end-user training for its new electronic health record system, which was slated to begin this week.
That could lead to a delay for the VA's overall EHR implementation timeline. The department is slated to bring its first site—Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Wash.—live on a new Cerner Corp. EHR next month.
The training delay follows "rigorous testing" of the VA's new EHR, during which the department decided it needed more time to build the system and ensure end-users are properly trained on it, according to an emailed statement from Christina Mandreucci, the VA's press secretary. She said the VA believes the EHR is 75% to 80% complete.
"Members of Congress have urged the department not to rush its electronic health record modernization efforts," she wrote. "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."
The VA inked a $10 billion contract with Cerner in May 2018 for a 10 year rollout of an EHR system it's co-developing with the Defense Department.
Mandreucci said the VA plans to announce a revised go-live schedule in the coming weeks.
VA leaders had reassured lawmakers they were on track for the March go-live as recently as November, despite still having a set of configuration, interface development, testing and training tasks to complete.
Former VA Deputy Secretary James Byrne, who was fired from his post last week, told members of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's Technology Modernization Subcommittee during a November hearing that he was "very confident" the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center would have a successful go-live on March 28.
But VA Secretary Robert Wilkie reportedly did a deeper review of EHR readiness after firing Byrne, and decided it was necessary to delay the schedule.
Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.), chair of the Technology Modernization Subcommittee, raised concerns that the committee had not been notified of any possible delays until Monday, despite having a call with VA officials in January and with Cerner officials earlier this month.
"I have repeatedly called for VA to be forthright about its progress, identify concerns and notify Congress about any challenges," Lee said in a statement. "We need to know we can take VA at its word."
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), the ranking member of the Technology Modernization Subcommittee, and Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), the ranking member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, applauded the VA's decision to delay training on the unfinished EHR system, arguing that more training and preparation will support a smoother go-live down the line.
"We stand in full support of the secretary's decision today to delay the first go-live deployment of the new Cerner electronic health record system," they wrote in a joint statement. "With a project as complex, costly and impactful as this one, the worst thing VA could do is jump the gun."
This isn't the first roadblock the VA's EHR project has faced.
The VA signed its contract with Cerner in 2018, almost a year after the department first announced plans to tap the health IT company to develop its EHR in June 2017. Since then, the development process has hit numerous snags as a result of lack of coordination with the DOD. While the VA and DOD have proposed a joint office with decision-making authority over the project, that office reportedly won't have its organizational structure finalized until after the EHR's implementation was slated to start.