An outside watchdog is recommending that Veterans Affairs halt deployment of its new electronic medical records system until serious problems with its operations are addressed, but department officials insist the issues won’t create significant delays for the massive project.
The new records system — a 10-year, $16 billion project started in 2018 — was one of the signature achievements of President Donald Trump’s VA policies. It is designed to connect veterans medical files with Defense Department files, providing a single, lifelong record for troops past their military separation.
VA officials have touted the ambitious project as transformational for veterans care, allowing veterans to access their complete medical history at any appointment, either within federal health care systems or, eventually, at private sector offices.
But the size and scope of the work have raised numerous concerns in recent years.
On Thursday, officials from the Government Accountability Office said that as of last fall, “VA was at risk of deploying a system that did not perform as intended and could negatively impact the likelihood of its successful adoption” due to lingering issues with the new records system.
Investigators found more than 360 “high-severity test findings” after the new system was deployed at test sites last fall, but most were settled within a few months. Of the remaining issues, VA officials said they have developed fixes for most and corrections for the rest in later system updates.
Still, officials from the watchdog agency said that VA leaders should “postpone deployment of the new EHR in new locations” until all known issues are resolved. VA officials downplayed that assessment.
“The GAO acknowledged the progress made since the last report ― proof that we can continue to move forward with deployment activity while solving identified issues at the same time,” Paula Paige, spokeswoman for VA’s Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization, said in a statement.
“The fact that we aren’t surprised by any of the issues in the report validates VA is tracking the right things.”
The new records system has already been deployed at six sites in Nevada and Washington with “no patient safety issues” related to missing information or difficulties accessing files, according to the department. Plans call for installing the new system at the VA Central Ohio Healthcare System this spring, while continuing troubleshooting work.
“Continuous testing will result in finding new issues over time,” Paige said. “We planned for that and have systems and processes in place that identify challenges and enable us to solve them quickly. We are confident we are on track to resolve these issues as we continue preparing for our next deployment.”
Lawmakers have vowed to keep close watch on that progress. During VA Secretary Denis McDonough’s confirmation hearing last month, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., expressed concerns that the larger effort to reform VA’s records systems “has taken way too long and cost taxpayers way too much.”
VA officials have already moved more than 24 million veteran health records into the new system. All VA facilities are expected to be using the system by the end of 2028.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.