The Department of Veterans Affairs has put the introduction of its new electronic health records system on hold at the hospital system slated to adopt it this summer -- a pause that extends to all future rollouts, VA officials said Thursday.
In a memo to staff at the VA Saginaw, Michigan, Health Care System, Veterans Integrated Services Network 10 Director Laura Ruzick said Thursday that the training scheduled to begin April 1 on the Oracle Cerner Millennium records system has been postponed. VA confirmed to Military.com the postponement applies to all planned deployments.
The announcement represents another blow to a medical records system that is used at several VA health systems but has been plagued by outages, has frustrated users and contributed to harm to patients.
"As VA leadership has promised, we will not deploy the new EHR system at any facilities until we are confident it is ready to deliver for veterans and VA providers," Ruzick wrote in the statement, released by VA headquarters. "Based on our recent assessments ... we have determined that the new EHR is not yet ready for the planned June deployment in Saginaw."
Ruzick said the results of readiness assessments -- initiated in October to solve problems with the system and ensure that it is user-friendly for VA health care providers -- contributed to the decision to pause the rollout.
The VA signed a $10 billion deal in May 2018 with Cerner to develop and oversee adoption of an electronic health records system compatible with the Department of Defense's MHS Genesis system, also created by Oracle Cerner.
The VA is in the process of reviewing the contract, which has grown to an estimated $16 billion, and has promised strong oversight that could greatly influence the system's future.
During a congressional hearing last month, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the deployment of the system in Saginaw would largely depend on the outcome of the contract review.
However, VA officials declined to say Thursday whether the Saginaw pause was related to the contract discussions.
"We have nothing more to add on the contract since negotiations are ongoing," a VA spokesman said.
McDonough said Thursday during a journalism symposium sponsored by The War Horse at the University of Chicago that the next month will be crucial in the contract negotiations.
"Nobody disputes the fact that we need a better electronic health record, a more modern electronic health record to ensure better outcomes," McDonough said. "The whole purpose of this multi-year, billion-dollar investment … is that you'll have better health outcomes."
House and Senate lawmakers have introduced bills aimed to improve or abandon the system altogether. Most recently, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, sponsored a bill that would delay any additional rollouts until certain performance standards are met.
The proposal follows on the heels of a similar bill introduced by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., as well as legislation in the House by members of that chamber's Veterans Affairs Committee.
In congressional testimony, Oracle Cerner executives said that the system has greatly improved and the number of times the system has gone down has dropped significantly, with the project "on the right trajectory," according to Oracle President Mike Sicilia.
Ruzick, the VISN director, promised staff that there would be updates in the coming weeks.
"I am confident that when we do roll out the new EHR system in Saginaw, we will make it a smooth, safe, and positive experience for veterans and staff alike -- and we will do so together," she wrote.
– Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime