The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) confirmed it will delay the rollout of its Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) program at four sites until 2023, due to unanticipated system outages and a lack of system reliability.

The VA will delay deployment to the Puget Sound VA Health Care System – American Lake and Seattle VA Medical Centers – from the original date of August 2022 to March 2023, a VA spokesperson confirmed today in a statement to MeriTalk.

Additionally, the VA will delay the Portland Health Care System – Portland and Portland-Vancouver VA Medical Centers – deployment from November 2022 to April 2023. The agency noted that its scheduled July 23 deployment in Boise remains unchanged.

“In evaluating Puget Sound’s and Portland’s readiness for deployment, VA determined the system hadn’t shown adequate reliability to support the current schedule,” the VA said. “The date was changed to allow Oracle Cerner to put important system enhancements in place and make the necessary improvements to ensure system stability… as well as fix outstanding issues to address research workflow challenges.”

The VA said it has previously reported “unanticipated outages and system degradations,” and is now requesting Oracle Cerner develop an execution plan to ensure regular system testing and resiliency.

As part of its contract, Oracle Cerner is required to secure the 99.9 percent uptime Service Level Agreement (SLA).

The decision to delay deployment efforts comes after reports that a draft watchdog report found at least 148 veterans were harmed during the VA’s rollout of the EHRM system at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Wash.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who has previously called on the VA to pause its EHRM rollout until the program’s ongoing issues are fixed, welcomed the halt.

“I’m glad I could convince VA to finally delay its rollout of what is clearly an inexcusably broken system in Washington state – its expansion into a larger more complex facility like VA Puget Sound Health Care System could have been catastrophic – and worse than what we’ve already seen in Spokane,” Sen. Murray said in a statement.

“However, I am still very focused on holding VA and Cerner accountable in getting this right for our veterans and the dedicated VA staff in Spokane and Walla Walla – this needs to get fixed, period,” she added.

The VA said it is “highly confident” in its ability to achieve the updated deployment schedule and “is doing everything possible to ensure safe and successful deployments.”

DoD EHR Deployment on Track for 2023 Completion

While the VA acquired Oracle Cerner’s Millennium EHR platform in 2018, the Department of Defense (DoD) acquired the platform in 2015 and is further ahead in the game.

In a call with reporters on Tuesday, DoD officials said the Pentagon is now more than 50 percent complete with the deployment of its EHR program, MHS GENESIS, and is on track to complete deployment efforts by the end of 2023.

Holly Joers, a program executive officer for Defense Healthcare Management Systems, said Tuesday that DoD now has over 114,000 users on the MHS GENESIS system. While DoD faced its own initial EHR growing pains, Joers said the agency was “able to learn and grow” on how to conduct workflows and standardized care.

“We took some time to really understand and appreciate that as we have rolled out, so we’re in a different place [than the VA] in terms of the number of users we have and maturity in the system,” Joers said.

She also noted that DoD has set up procedures to ensure smooth operations in the case of an outage with the Oracle Cerner system.

“With any IT system, we do have to look at disruptions to service – we take them very seriously,” Joers said. “But in terms of outage from a healthcare perspective, we have processes and procedures to ensure that healthcare operations can continue in the event that there is any downtime.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.