The Veterans Affairs Department has paused the rollout of its multibillion-dollar electronic health record project on account of the novel coronavirus, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie wrote in a letter to Congress on Friday.
"The worldwide pandemic created by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has shifted the overall priorities of the Department of Veterans Affairs," he wrote. "Our priority is the care of veterans and providing surge capabilities for civilian healthcare systems."
Wilkie said the VA's office of EHR modernization has shifted to a "non-intrusive posture with VA healthcare operations" so that clinicians can focus on caring for veterans.
There have been more than 304,000 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. to date, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This marks the second delay the VA has announced this year for implementing its EHR, a multibillion-dollar contract it struck with Cerner Corp. in May 2018. The VA is co-developing the EHR system with the Defense Department.
The Defense Department also delayed its EHR rollout last week as it responds to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In February, the VA pushed back plans to begin end-user training for its new EHR, saying it needed more time to build the system. At the time, it said the EHR was 75% to 80% complete.
In his letter to Congress last week, Wilkie said the EHR is now more than 99% complete, with 72 of 73 interfaces ready for testing.
"VA remains committed to implementing a state-of-the-market EHR system and will continue to work closely with Cerner Corporation, Department of Defense, the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization Office, and other key partners to analyze COVID-19 impacts on (EHR modernization)," Wilkie wrote.
Wilkie did not outline a new schedule for the EHR go-live, although he said the VA and Defense Department would deploy a new health information exchange to exchange data between the two agencies this month. He said the VA would provide additional updates to Congress when it has "better visibility on when our healthcare personnel can resume working on the (EHR modernization) program regionally and nationally."
Cerner in an emailed statement said it supported the VA's decision to delay the EHR project.
"Cerner is actively working with VA to reassess and revise deployment timelines while pushing forward on critical elements of the program," the company wrote.