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New VA Electronic Health Records System Delayed Again Because of Serious Problems

If you are a veteran, you likely received some treatment at a military clinic or hospital. You are also likely familiar with the jokes about ibuprofen and 'light duty' being the military's cure for any condition from a headache to broken limb (that medical miracle was my sole treatment for both a concussion and a soft-tissue foot injury). Depending on when you served, the records of those medical encounters may have been on paper (mine were) or they may have been on a computer. If you have used VA medical services in the past few decades, you likely have become familiar with VA's electronic health records (EHR) system called VistA (or, more likely, its patient-facing portal, MyhealtheVet).

Over the past decade, VA has sought a plan to make the military EHR of modern service-members easier to port over to VA EHR. The goal was to create a "seamless health care experience for veterans, from the time they enter the military through their care at VA." After much wrangling for the proper tools, both the Department of Defense and VA decided to rely on EHR platforms made by a Missouri company called Cerner.

The initial product for DoD, called MHS Genesis, was rolled out at Coast Guard facilities in March 2020. VA's rollout of their product, Cerner Millennium, planned for the Mann-Grandstaff VA Hospital in Spokane, Washington, was delayed for months. The delay was initially due to IT infrastructure and training issues. Then, it was delayed again partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight months after its original planned rollout, Cerner Millennium was finally up and running in Spokane.

As you might expect, VA initially lauded the product as successful. The acting deputy secretary of VA at the time, Pamela Powers, even went so far as to say, " No veteran’s treatment suffered as we moved to the new system." If you are a veteran and have ever had care at a VA medical center, you probably have your doubts about that. You would not be alone. Not everybody thought the transition went smoothly.

It is perhaps unsurprising to learn that the Government Accountability Office, prior to rollout, had identified issues that needed to be resolved. Some were resolved prior to rollout; the remainder were not. By January of 2021, the pushback was starting to gain steam and an internal review revealed a number of complaints. John Windom, executive director of VA EHRM Office and former Navy Captain, who was given the responsibility of managing this rollout was quoted as saying, "There are a lot of moving parts. I spent 33 years in the DoD; I did not know what moving parts were until I got to VA."

By February, the GAO officially recommended that VA delay any further deployment of this EHR until the remaining issues are addressed. The VA then launched a "strategic review" of the EHR and its rollout, but so far, the issues veterans and their care providers are having with the system are not good.

For example, some veterans have been unable to communicate with their care providers via the system, and others have had their medication lists completely wiped and couldn’t get their medications. VA hopes to have its rollout to all VA medical facilities completed by 2023.

If this is all giving you a headache, maybe you need a scrip for some ibuprofen and light-duty. Of course, the problems with this system could cause serious harm to veterans and that's no laughing matter.

More information and resources for veterans can be accessed at the below links:

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