The Senate has confirmed David Shulkin, M.D., as the new Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary on Monday night, Feb. 13, making him the first VA secretary who had not served in the military.
The Senate voted 100-0 in favor of Shulkin’s confirmation. Shulkin, 57, a board-certified internist and fellow of the American College of Physicians, is a holdover from the Obama administration, and is the only member of President Trump’s cabinet who was also an Obama appointee.
From a health IT standpoint, VA is still attempting to modernize the department’s electronic health record (EHR) system, the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), which has been the subject of numerous Congressional hearings of late. As previously reported by Healthcare Informatics, during a hearing of the Senate’s Committee on Veteran Affairs in June, lawmakers voiced ongoing frustrations about the VA’s progress on modernizing its IT systems and the progress of achieving interoperability between the VA’s VistA and the Department of Defense’s (DoD) EHR system. In that hearing, Shulkin testified that VA officials have reached a consensus that “looking at a commercial product is probably the way to go,” and he added, “But we need to do this in a way that incorporates our ability to integrate with community providers and unique needs of veterans.”
VA officials are indeed now looking for a commercial EHR system after an initial plan which called for DoD and VA to develop one integrated electronic records system to replace separate systems fell through. After two years of discussions and planning, the VA and DoD announced last year they would forgo plans to build a new health records system to be used jointly by the departments, at a reported cost of $560 million, in order to pursue separate plans.
VA is also scheduled to launch online medical appointment scheduling nationwide this month, allowing the agency’s more than 6 million patients to schedule primary-care appointments through an app on their phones, tablets or computers. VA’s healthcare scheduling system has been in the public eye for a few years now, ever since a 2014 report issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) highlighted the negligence from hospital officials and staff members at the Veterans Health Affairs medical center in Phoenix for not placing veterans on the electronic waiting list and undermining scheduling procedures. In total, the OIG report revealed the electronic waiting list system was missing at least 1,700 veterans who were not scheduled for an appointment. That scandal led to the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki amidst Congressional pressure.
Prior to being nominated by President Obama, Shulkin served in numerous chief executive roles including serving as President at Morristown Medical Center, Goryeb Children’s Hospital, and Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute, and the Atlantic Health System Accountable Care Organization. Shulkin also previously served as President and CEO of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. Further, Shulkin has held numerous physician leadership roles including the Chief Medical Officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University Hospital, and the Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital.
Brian Gragnolati, president and CEO of Atlantic Health System, where Shulkin served previously, said in a statement, “I applaud Congress’s decision to confirm David Shulkin. Through the many years I have known him and during his time at Atlantic Health System, he has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to enhancing the health of our communities. It is heartening to see unanimous recognition of David’s success in maintaining quality and value across a complex organization, and appreciation for his expertise as a physician who understands the tremendous responsibility of delivering care.”