The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that it is pausing all future deployments of its Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) program – with the exception of one planned for 2024 – while it focuses on improvements at the five sites where the EHR system is currently deployed, as part of a “larger program reset.”

During the reset period, VA said it plans to address the issues identified during the “assess and address” period, which the agency launched in October 2022. At that time, the VA said it would delay further deployments of its Oracle Cerner EHR system until June 2023.

Notably, the agency’s reset announcement falls in line with legislation now gaining traction in Congress that would aim at a similar result.

“We’ve heard from veterans and VA clinicians that the new electronic health record is not meeting expectations – and we’re holding Oracle Cerner and ourselves accountable to get this right,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “This reset period will allow us to focus on fixing what’s wrong, listening to those we serve, and laying the foundation for a modern electronic health record that delivers for Veterans and clinicians.”

The agency said it plans to redirect resources to the five sites where the EHR is currently in use: Spokane VA Health Care System, VA Walla Walla Health Care, Roseburg VA Health Care System, VA Southern Oregon Health Care, and VA Central Ohio Health Care System.

Earlier this month, the VA announced the delay of a go-live of the EHR system at the VA Saginaw Healthcare System in Michigan, initially scheduled for June. It also recently announced the delay of the EHR deployment at Ann Arbor Healthcare System facilities, which was scheduled for July.

The VA acquired Oracle Cerner’s EHR platform in 2018, and the Federal contract for the program’s work in coming years is set to be renewed in May. VA said it is currently negotiating with Oracle Cerner on an amended contract that will “increase Oracle Cerner’s accountability to deliver a high-functioning, high-reliability, world-class EHR system.”

Additionally, the VA said it will work with Congress during the reset on resource requirements, estimating that fiscal year (FY) 2023 costs will be reduced by $400 million.

“For the past few years, we’ve tried to fix this plane while flying it – and that hasn’t delivered the results that Veterans or our staff deserve,” said Dr. Neil Evans, acting program executive director of the EHRM Integration Office. “This reset changes that.”

“We are going to take the time necessary to get this right for veterans and VA clinicians alike, and that means focusing our resources solely on improving the EHR at the sites where it is currently in use, and improving its fit for VA more broadly,” he added. “In doing so, we will enhance the EHR for both current and future users, paving the way for successful future deployments.”

The only exception to the full-stop on deployment activities is the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in Chicago, according to the VA. This site is the only fully-integrated VA and Department of Defense (DoD) healthcare system – where the new EHR is scheduled to go-live in March 2024.

“To ensure that all veterans and service members who visit this facility are covered by one EHR system, deployment activities for this facility, in partnership with DoD and the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization Office, will continue as planned and leverage the improvements made during the reset,” the VA said.

Mike Sicilia, executive vice president of Oracle Global Industries, said in a statement that Oracle will “continue to closely coordinate with VA to provide enhancements and updates to the EHR.”

“Oracle is proud to continue working together with VA to modernize its Electronic Health Record system,” Sicilia said. “We support VA’s plan to improve the operation of the EHR at the current sites and take the necessary time to institute governance, change management, and standardization changes to ensure the success of future VA deployments, similar to what DoD did a few years ago.”

This reset comes after growing concerns from lawmakers and several legislative proposals to reform the EHRM program.

Notably, the reset aligns with the EHR RESET Act, introduced by Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., and his Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee colleagues Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

The legislation would instruct the VA to not move forward with other EHRM deployments at other VA sites until the data at the five existing deployment sites “demonstrates an ability to deliver health care to veterans at standards that surpass metrics using VA’s VistA system or that meet national health operations standards as determined by the under secretary for health.”

That bill is gaining momentum in Congress, as House VA Committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., and Ranking Member Mark Takano, D-Calif., introduced companion legislation in the House on Thursday.

“This reset is a step in the right direction and shows that VA is serious about getting this program working for the veterans it serves,” Rep. Tester said today in a statement. “The EHRM system is simply far too important to the future of our veterans’ health care. That’s why I’ll keep pushing VA to implement these much-needed changes and finalize a new contract with Oracle Cerner that better serves veterans, medical professionals, and taxpayers.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.