Veterans Affairs Department leaders reassured lawmakers on Wednesday that they are on track to bring its first site live on a new electronic health record system in March.
VA Deputy Secretary James Byrne during a hearing with the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's Technology Modernization Subcommittee said he was "very confident" that Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., will have a successful go-live on March 28, 2020.
"At this point, I have a tremendous amount of confidence in the team that we've assembled to do this," Byrne said.
The VA still has a set of configuration, interface development, testing and training tasks to complete in the four months before implementation, noted Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.). Those tasks are on a tight schedule—if one or more take longer than expected, it could create challenges for ensuring staff are trained before the go-live.
"I'm concerned that the VA has not given itself enough time to fully test the system nor have they allowed time for all users to adequately train on it," she said.
The department inked a no-bid, $10 billion contract with Cerner Corp. in May 2018, for a 10 year rollout of a system it's co-developing with the Defense Department.
The EHR development process has already hit some snags as a result of lack of coordination between the VA and the Defense Department, Cerner executives told lawmakers this summer. Since then, the agencies have proposed a joint office that would have decision-making authority over the project, called the Federal EHR Modernization Program Management Office, but the office won't have its organizational structure finalized until after the EHR's implementation starts.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) urged VA officials to speak up if they don't feel confident the VA is ready for the go-live.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that a March 28, 2020, go-live is still achievable in Spokane," Banks said. "That being said, a few weeks may make the difference between a relatively smooth go-live and a rough go-live."
One point of contention is that patients who have received care through both the Veterans Health Administration and the Military Health System won't be able to request their entire record from one place. Instead, they'll have to approach each agency to request access to health data completed at the respective health system.
That's a result of regulations surrounding what information each agency is allowed to release, said Dr. Laura Kroupa, chief medical officer at the VA's Office of EHR Modernization. VA officials said the agencies have had discussions on how to address that, and whether it will require additional legislation.
"This is concerning to me, because the goal of Congress in establishing the (EHR modernization) programs was to establish one single record that follows service members as they enlist in the military, perform their service, transition and then for the rest of their lives," Lee said.
Without a simple way for patients to request access to that single record, "we're not meeting the goal of the system," she said.