VA CIO Hopeful Revised Oracle Cerner Contract Will Mend EHR Project

Kurt DelBene, VA CIO, is “cautiously optimistic” that stronger Oracle Cerner contract terms will set the EHR modernization on the right path.

A top Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) official is “cautiously optimistic” that its renegotiated contract terms with health IT vendor Oracle Cerner will improve the agency’s troubled EHR modernization, according to reporting from FedScoop.

The EHR platform, which VA first launched at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in October 2020, has been plagued with issues. VA officials have confirmed that health IT deficiencies contributed to more than 150 cases of harm and the deaths of four veterans.

In April 2023, VA paused the rollout of the EHR at additional sites to address issues with the platform. The following month, VA renegotiated its EHR contract with Oracle Cerner to include stronger performance metrics and larger financial penalties.

“I feel good about the fact that we have taken a pause,” Kurt DelBene, the department’s CIO, told FedScoop in a podcast episode. “We now have lots and lots of service level agreement dimensions that are actually spelled out with penalties.”

DelBene said that the schedule VA took in its initial attempt at implementing the EHR modernization program was “pretty aggressive.” However, he said that the department “learned a ton from the five sites that we’ve deployed to” regarding the usability of the EHR.

“It’s really complex to change your health record system,” DelBene said. “I think we’ve done the right thing in getting to the pause, getting to criteria to launch again, and I am optimistic.”

Additionally, he noted that the Pentagon’s success in implementing its new EHR, which is based on the same Oracle Cerner system, gives him hope. However, he acknowledged that the Pentagon’s implementation did not entail the same complexity as VA.

“I think that’s a signal that we can make it work, but there’s been a certain uniqueness and variability of the way healthcare is delivered in the VA, and we’ve had to do more customizations to actually just facilitate how physicians and caregivers work in the VA,” he said.

DelBene said that while VA is “further along” in deciding when to resume the rollout, the agency will not begin implementation again “until we feel good about where we’re going next.”

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