Veterans Affairs officials on Friday announced a full review of the department’s $16 billion electronic medical records overhaul amid growing concerns from lawmakers about the size and scope of the project.
The review, expected to last 12 weeks, is not expected to delay the deployment of the new system to the Columbus, Ohio, VA medical center this summer. But department officials acknowledged that “the order of subsequent deployments may be revised as a result of this strategic review.”
Last month, officials from the Government Accountability Office recommended postponing further expansion of the project until lingering issues with the system are resolved. They said 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.”
Department officials framed the new review as an assessment by the new administration to ensure that project timelines and requirements are realistic.
GAO officials said work should halt until fixes are in place, but VA officials said they can make corrections without delaying any deployment plans.
“A successful electronic health records deployment is essential in the delivery of lifetime, world-class health care for our Veterans,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement.
“After a rigorous review of our most-recent deployment at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center [in Washington], it is apparent that a strategic review is necessary. VA remains committed to the Cerner Millennium solution, and we must get this right for veterans.”
VA officials separately emphasized that the review is not aimed at looking whether the entire project should be reconsidered, but instead only at the pace of deployment and advance requirement needs for that work.
The 10-year health records project — heavily touted by former President Donald Trump’s administration as a transformation effort for VA — is designed to bring veterans and military medical software into alignment, allowing lifelong medical records to follow service members from through Defense Department clinics, VA medical appointments and even health visits outside the federal systems.
But deployment of Cerner’s Millennium software, already in use at the Defense Department, has had a difficult start. Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have promised close scrutiny on the new records system in the coming year, both because of the scope of the project and the reports of uneven progress in the initial stages.
Earlier this week, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., set a letter to McDonough complaining of “new stress on the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center” — the first site to use the new system — because of shortcomings with the new records implementation.
“I am hearing from some [employees] who are deeply frustrated with the system and are not getting the support they need,” she wrote. “Nurses who go to work every day to serve our veterans should not be driven to tears because software, which was intended to be an improvement, makes their jobs more difficult.”
She also raised concerns about patient safety, citing multiple reports of prescription delays linked to the new system. Officials from Cerner have disputed whether that is a widespread problem.
They have also said that many of the initial challenges with deploying the new system were expected, and technical experts from their company and VA built space into their deployment timelines to account for improvements needed as those problems have arisen.
The $16-billion, 10-year plan is designed to bring VA medical records in line with Defense Department files.
“Cerner supports the decision by VA to conduct a strategic program review,” said Brian Sandager, general manager of Cerner Government Services, in a statement.
“We are proud of the significant milestones we have achieved, including one of the largest health data migrations in history and the deployment of a new joint Health Information Exchange between DOD, VA and their community partners. As committed partners we welcome and value the opportunity to review the program and share lessons learned.”
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.