During a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing yesterday, VA Secretary David Shulkin, M.D., told lawmakers that it will be seven or eight years before Cerner’s electronic health record (EHR) system is fully implemented throughout the VA.
When asked by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) in the hearing how long the project will take, Shulkin said specifically, “Once we negotiate the contract, it will be 18 months from the time that the contract is complete to the first site in VA going up.” When O’Rourke then asked Shulkin how long until it gets to 100 percent implementation, the VA Secretary responded, “We are thinking seven to eight years.” O’Rourke then noted that he has yet to see a “VA budget for time or cost [not] exceed…it usually goes beyond the budgeted time and beyond the budgeted cost.”
Shulkin cut in, saying, “This is a new VA, congressman.”
Last month, Shulkin said in a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee meeting, “We released to Congress, to you, a 30-day notice of award of a contract. We are keeping on the timeline that we talked about. We’re marching forward. We have the principles. I have some updates to share with you on the strategic IT plan, because I think we are making a lot of progress with that.”
Shulkin announced in June that VA will replace its aging EHR system, called VistA, by adopting the same platform as the U.S. Department of Defense, a Cerner EHR system. However, the agency also said at the time that while it would be a similar Cerner platform as DoD, it would not be identical, citing the need to create an “integrated” product in order to achieve interoperability with other healthcare provider organizations. Since then, senators have pushed the agency for a timeline for VA’s Cerner EHR project and for plans to ensure that the technology systems of the VA and DoD will be integrated.
Regarding cost, recently, the House Appropriations Committee cleared the fiscal year 2018 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, which included $65 million for the modernization of the VA EHR system—for year one alone. Some media reports have estimated that the estimated cost of the entire project could be as much as $18 billion.
Interoperability between the technology systems of VA and DoD has long been called into question after an effort to create a single EHR for both agencies fell apart in 2013 despite spending nearly $1 billion in its attempt.
Meanwhile, the DoD awarded a multi-billion dollar EHR contract in 2015 to Leidos and Cerner. Although initial deployment was set to begin in December 2016, the contract was delayed and the deployment began this past February. The cost of that project has been reported to be more than $4 billion with an estimated finish date of 2022.