Senate Democrat Questions VA Secretary on Renegotiated EHR Contract

At a recent Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) pressed VA officials on the modified EHR contract and how VA plans to assess end-user satisfaction.

After the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a renegotiated EHR contract with Oracle Cerner earlier this week, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the VA committee, questioned agency officials for details on the project at a hearing.

“Yesterday, VA announced that an agreement for a new EHR contract had been made with Oracle,” Murray said at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget request for the VA. “It’s really important to see that VA is prioritizing reliability and responsiveness, and patient safety across the contract, so I appreciate that.”

“Just last week, GAO released a report indicating that VA had not established target goals to assess user satisfaction—and that until it does, VA lacks a basis for determining when satisfaction has improved enough for the system to be deployed at any other sites,” Murray added.

She noted support for the VA EHR reset period announced in April 2023, which has paused all further Oracle Cerner EHR implementations to help VA focus resources on system optimization at sites currently using the platform before continuing the rollout.

“I support the reset period as you know, and I support efforts to move forward, but only after—of course—you are confident about the safety and effectiveness of the system and have clear, established satisfaction markers—and what matters is what the providers and veterans on the ground think,” Murray, who also serves as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s VA Subcommittee, continued.

“Our veterans deserve the best healthcare we can offer, and it’s our job to make sure that VA and Oracle Cerner really get this right,” she said. “When do you expect to have a revised request for the EHR account in Fiscal Year 2024, as well as an estimate of whether you need the funds requested to support the rollout in the IT and medical facility accounts?”

Denis McDonough, VA secretary, said the agency does not expect to need the more than $400 million that Congress set aside for the EHR project this year. However, he said he would follow up with a timeline for the revised request.

McDonough emphasized that coming to the Appropriations Committee with a revised proposal was the department’s “number one priority.”

Murray also asked McDonough if VA had plans to establish targets to assess EHR user satisfaction.

McDonough confirmed that user satisfaction is critical to the evaluation but said he would get back to Murray regarding specific targets.

When asked what changes VA has made or plans to make to the system based on provider feedback, McDonough emphasized the contract’s updated metrics for system uptime.

“A big part of it is the enhanced accountability measures around uptime and system reliability,” he said. “That comes directly from the user experience.”

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