VA Data Shows 498 ‘Major Incidents’ Since Oracle Cerner EHR Go-Live

A VA dataset showed that the Oracle Cerner EHR experienced 930 hours of “incomplete functionality” and almost 40 hours of “outage” since its fall 2020 go-live.

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has recorded 498 major incidents with its new Oracle Cerner EHR system since the system go-live in 2020, according to reporting from FedScoop.

A dataset obtained by the news outlet through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request reveals that the EHR system had 930 hours of “incomplete functionality” between Sept. 8, 2020, and June 10, 2022.

Additionally, the dataset showed 103 hours of degraded performance and almost 40 hours of “outage,” which means that the system was entirely offline.

However, separate internal agency communications obtained by FedScoop point to a lack of consistency over how the agency discloses multi-day outages.

In at least one instance, descriptions of multi-day outages between VA officials in internal agency emails did not match up with the disclosed data.

The latest dataset obtained by FedScoop also identifies the VA as the responsible party in about one-third of the incidents that have occurred since go-live, while Oracle Cerner is responsible for about two-thirds of the incidents.

In almost half of the incidents, the root cause is not clear to the VA, according to the reported data.

“The bottom line is that my confidence in the EHR is badly shaken,” Denis McDonough, VA secretary, said in a statement provided to the news outlet. “Regardless of whether an outage in the system lasts for one minute or one hour or one day, any outage or delay is unacceptable for the Veterans we serve and our VA healthcare providers who serve them.”

“The goal of the new system is, and always has been, to provide better health outcomes for Veterans and a better experience for providers,” McDonough continued. “Right now, the system is not meeting those goals and needs major improvement. We at VA could not be more frustrated on behalf of Veterans and providers, and we’re holding Cerner, Oracle, and ourselves accountable to get this right.”

In the statement, McDonough reiterated that the agency has paused all future system deployments until 2023.

Mike Bost, R-Ill., ranking member of the House VA Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, commented on the dataset, noting that the number of incidents is “alarming.”

 “These problems have persisted since the very beginning of the rollout in 2020, and they put veterans at risk and make employees’ jobs impossible,” Bost said. “If the Cerner electronic health record is not capable of delivering for veterans, it should not be used in any VA facility. Veterans, dedicated VA health professionals, and taxpayers deserve answers immediately.”

Recently, lawmakers have called out issues with the cost and reliability of the VA’s EHR implementation.

The EHR rollout issues have caused nearly 150 instances of patient harm, according to the VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). For example, a veteran at risk for suicide did not receive treatment because records disappeared from the computer system.

This incident occurred due to technical issues with an “unknown queue” where specific orders providers input into the system do not get delivered to their intended location.

Members of Congress are calling on the VA to punish those within the agency and Oracle Cerner for the issues.

“Veterans and employees deserve better,” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., told FedScoop after reviewing the VA EHR incident report obtained via FOIA. “I call on the VA leadership to get serious about accountability and impose penalties commensurate with the failures, not the slaps on the wrist we have seen so far.”

Oracle Cerner did not respond to FedScoop’s request for comment.

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