VA EHRM Brings Patient Portal, Patient Safety Issues at Pilot Site

The VA EHRM’s pilot facility is experiencing health IT difficulties that are affecting the patient portal, prescription access, and patient safety.

The pilot facility of the VA’s Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) program is experiencing health IT issues related to the patient portal, prescriptions, and community care, putting veteran patient safety at risk, according to Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05).

At the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Member Day, McMorris Rodgers gave testimony regarding the difficulties staff are experiencing at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane.  

“The EHRM was supposed to move veteran health care into the 21st century, modernizing VA operations and ensuring smooth and seamless care for veterans as they move through different VA departments,” McMorris Rodgers wrote in her testimony.

“Unfortunately, the new system is not the improvement we hoped for, at least not yet,” the Congresswoman continued. “It has put new stresses on Mann-Grandstaff, a vital lifeline for veterans in my district. Veterans are constantly reaching out to my offices with complaints and pleas for help.”

McMorris noted that she has repeatedly heard that veterans cannot easily communicate with their care team through the system’s patient portal. What’s more, her office has received reports that veterans’ appointments are being scheduled or changed without the veteran being notified. Veterans are also not receiving notifications when they receive provider messages in the patient portal after they had opted into notifications.

“Recently, a veteran let our office know that although he had signed up to get alerts whenever he received an online message from his VA providers, he logged into the patient portal to find he had multiple urgent messages waiting for him that he hadn’t been alerted to receiving,” McMorris Rodgers wrote in her testimony.

Days later, that same veteran received several alerts within minutes in the middle of the night about a message his provider had sent in the portal earlier that day, she said.

“The patient portal, alert and messaging system is not where it needs to be,” the Congresswoman wrote. “An inability to communicate with their care team effectively puts veterans’ health and safety at risk.”

In her testimony, McMorris Rodgers also expressed concern about the EHRM’s impact on patient prescription access.

“We’ve been contacted by veterans who have experienced baffling incidents and mistakes that put their health and safety at risk,” she noted. “One constituent shared that after the EHRM went live, his prescriptions started coming in his father’s name instead of his own. He spent hours trying to correct the issue with the VA.”

McMorris Rodgers also described a situation where a veteran went through withdrawal after his prescriptions were not properly converted to the new EHR system.

In addition to patient portal and prescription concerns, the Congresswoman noted an alarming backlog of community care.

According to McMorris Rodgers, there is a community care backlog of at least six months in her district, prolonging care access for at-risk veterans.

“This bottleneck is cutting off access to an important healthcare option that many veterans in eastern Washington utilize,” she wrote in her testimony. “I have written to VA leadership to try to get to the bottom of the problem and determine whether it is due to COVID-19, the EHRM, or a combination of both issues. A six-month wait for care is unacceptable. I’ll continue to pursue answers so we can remedy this situation.”

McMorris Rodgers noted that she has been encouraged by conversations she has had with VA leaders and others working on the EHRM, but she emphasized the importance of addressing these issues swiftly before the system is deployed across the country.

 “When someone joins the military, it’s not just a job—it’s a family commitment to our country,” she wrote. “I appreciate the committee’s efforts to roll out the red carpet for America’s veterans and focus on policies that ensure they get the care and benefits they have earned.”

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