VA EHR Modernization 'Is Not Optional,' VA Committee Democratic Chair Says

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., met with Donald Remy, VA deputy secretary, on February 1 to discuss ongoing issues with the VA EHR modernization program.

The Democratic chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee voiced his support for VA to continue its EHR modernization (EHRM) program, even as House Republicans have proposed laws that would potentially scrap the implementation, according to reporting from Nextgov.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said that technical and performance issues with the Oracle Cerner EHR system's implementation do not undermine the fact that VA's legacy EHR needs an update.

"Make no mistake, modernization of the electronic health record is not optional—one way or another, it has to be done," Tester said in an email to the news outlet. "And I will keep demanding results on behalf of every veteran and dedicated VA medical professional until we get this right."

A staffer on the Senate VA Committee told the news outlet that Tester met with VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy at the beginning of February to discuss ongoing issues with the system's implementation. The staffer said the Committee is also planning to hold a hearing regarding the EHRM rollout sometime in March.

Tester's comments came after Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, introduced legislation that would end the Oracle Cerner EHR program at VA if it cannot exhibit significant improvement.

The bill would also return all medical facilities using the new Oracle Cerner EHR to VistA, VA's legacy EHR system. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., the House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman, co-sponsored Rosendale's bill.

Bost also introduced legislation on January 27 that would bar VA from deploying the EHR system at any more medical facilities until the health IT meets certain system performance and facility readiness standards. Nine Republican legislators, including Rosendale, co-sponsored the bill.

The rollout of VA's Oracle Cerner EHR system has received criticism from both sides of the aisle since the system first went live at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, in 2020.

A July 2022 report from the VA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the EHR system deployed at Mann-Grandstaff directed over 11,000 veterans' clinical orders to an "unknown queue" without alerting clinicians, resulting in multiple instances of patient harm.

In addition to patient safety issues, the implementation has presented cost concerns, system outages, and performance and training challenges. VA announced last October that it would delay future deployments of the Oracle Cerner EHR system until June 2023 to "fully assess performance and address every concern" with the implementation.

Oracle, which acquired EHR vendor Cerner last year, has signaled opposition to both bills introduced by House Republicans.

Ken Glueck, executive vice president of Oracle, said in a February 3 blog post that terminating the EHR deployment and reverting back to VistA would be "the wrong approach and will take VA and healthcare for our nation's veterans backward."

"VistA cannot be made better; it will just be made older, less secure, and more expensive to operate," he added.

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