23.5M VA Electronic Health Records Transferred to Cerner

Samara Rosenfeld
JULY 30, 2019
EHR
Photo/Thumb have been modified. U.S. Army photo.

More than 23 million electronic health records (EHRs) of veterans have been transferred to a Cerner data center for the EHR company to process, according to an announcement yesterday from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The move represents a milestone in a multibillion-dollar migration that some observers and lawmakers have called rocky. 
 
The migration is the first phase of VA’s EHR Modernization program, which aims to leverage an existing commercial solution — Cerner’s product — to achieve interoperability. The solution is slated to facilitate the secure transfer of active duty service members’ health data as they become veterans. If all goes as planned, clinicians will have access to veteran’s complete health information more quickly, which could improve care delivery for this population.
 
“For decades, VA and (Department of Defense) have been struggling to achieve interoperability and seamlessly share patient records between our health systems — placing an unfair burden on our Veterans and their families,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, J.D., said in a statement. “No Veteran, family member or caregiver should have to carry boxes of paper, medical and service records around. This data migration is the first step to solving that problem for good.”
 
VA medical centers have compiled more than 78 billion records. The records contain lab results, pharmacy prescriptions, inpatient and outpatient diagnoses and procedures and other medical data for living and deceased veterans.
 
The VA’s history with EHRs began in 1977, when the Computer Assisted System Staff team developed the Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System (MUMPS). MUMPS was a precursor to VistA, the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, an EHR system developed by the VA.
 
In the 1980s, VA made its software available without restriction in the public domain. The organization offered the use of VistA as the standard-bearer for EHR implementation around the world.
 
The VA most recently awarded Perspecta, a U.S. government services provider, a $155 million contract to continue providing maintenance and support for VistA. The news came less than a year after the VA signed a $10 billion Cerner EHR implementation contract to replace the system.
 
Yesterday’s move brings the VA closer to achieving an interoperable system that can improve the transition from active military member to veteran and drive better patient outcomes.

Meanwhile, the EHR migration has been rocky from the start.

Genevieve Morris, former chief health information officer for the Office of EHR Modernization at the VA, resigned just two months into her stint with the agency. Morris was overseeing the VA’s EHR modernization efforts.

In her resignation letter, which she published on Twitter, she wrote that it became clear that VA’s leadership intended to take the effort in a different direction than it was headed. 

Lawmakers have also expressed concern over the project and the VA's ability to complete information technology initiatives on time and within budget. 

One report from the Government Accountability Office even showed that the agency spent over $1 billion on various modernization efforts, all of which were abandoned.

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Related Coverage:
The Chasm Between Public Perception and Clinical Reality at the VA
GAO Details Failed VA EHR Initiatives as Agency Requests New Interoperability Rule
Island Health System Struggling with Cerner Transition

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