After several months-long delays, the Department of Veterans Affairs has announced a major milestone in adopting a new electronic health records system: the launch of the Cerner Millennium EHR at a hospital in Spokane, Washington.
VA officials said last week that the new system is up and running at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center and its affiliated clinics, as well as VA's West Consolidated Patient Account Center in Las Vegas.
This step to modernize the VA's medical records system has been decades in the making: after a lengthy debate with the Department of Defense over which platform to use, VA announced in 2017 it would buy the same one as DoD, the Cerner system, which DoD calls MHS Genesis.
The launch last week follows the rollout of new Cerner-built appointment scheduling software in Ohio in September and adoption of the MHS Genesis platform at four Coast Guard facilities in March.
"This is an historic step toward creating a seamless health care experience for veterans, from the time they enter the military through their care at VA," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a release.
Rollout of the system at Mann-Grandstaff was first delayed in February to ensure that the department's IT framework could support the program and employees had time to train on it.
It was delayed again in April so staff could focus on treating patients and maintaining safe clinical environments during the pandemic.
Congressional lawmakers, who have frequently chastised VA and DoD for their inability to establish a common electronic medical record that can track a service members' medical record from recruitment through their lives as veterans, have been supportive of the delays, encouraging VA to focus on a trouble-free rollout rather than pushing it through, only to experience delays later.
In a hearing Sept. 30 on the rollout, House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle welcomed news that VA would begin actually using the system.
"VA's road to initial operating capability in Spokane, Washington, has been a long and winding road, to put it mildly. But after three delays, I am now confident that about one month from now the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center will be using the Cerner Millennium EHR," said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, at a hearing of the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on technology modernization.
"This is obviously a major investment of taxpayer dollars and a program that we hope will have long-range effects, not just for veterans but for our country. In this effort, no half-measures can be accepted, and I know we hope that all of you will be as successful as possible," said the subcommittee's chairwoman, Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nevada.
Mann-Grandstaff was selected because it is a smaller facility that serves roughly 24,000 veterans and can accommodate the initial operating capability set of the system, which will be expanded later with new software.
At Mann-Grandstaff, the Millennium EHR will be used in conjunction with VA's traditional system, the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, or VistA, and the Computerized Patient Record System.
VA expects the Cerner system, estimated to cost nearly $16 billion, to be in place nationwide at all VA facilities by 2028.
The Pacific Northwest also served as the rollout region for DoD's MHS Genesis. The system is now in use at more than a dozen military hospitals and clinics in Washington, California, Idaho.
DoD also delayed implementation of the system at seven sites during the pandemic, but has since resumed rollout, introducing it at Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms, California, in September.
This year, VA also launched a new Cerner appointments scheduling system at the VA Central Ohio Healthcare System.
"We're honored to join VA, DOD and Coast Guard in their mission to provide better health care for service members and veterans," said Brent Shafer, chairman and CEO, Cerner. "We share a sharp focus on interoperability that delivers data where it needs to go, regardless of its origination."
VA expects the Cerner platform to be in place nationwide at all VA facilities by 2028.