VA rollout of new electronic records system is delayed

By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 10, 2020

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs’ rollout of its new, multibillion-dollar electronic health records system scheduled to launch in March has been delayed, according to department officials.

The $10 billion overhaul of the VA’s antiquated system is designed to permit the VA to share Defense Department medical records of transitioning service members, easing the burden on veterans to prove service-connected injuries and illnesses. The new system was also created to allow the VA to share information easily with private-sector providers who treat veterans as more and more veterans are able to seek private sector care with VA funding.

The rollout was originally intended to debut March 28 at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Wash. However, due to a few technical and training delays, the department had to delay the launch. It's unclear when the system will be unveiled. The new method of tracking veteran health records will be fully implemented by 2027, according to the VA.  

“After rigorous testing of our new [electronic health records], the department will need more time to complete the system build and ensure clinicians and other users are properly trained on it,” said Christina Mandreucci, a spokeswoman for the department. “We believe we are 75-80% complete in this regard and will be announcing a revised ‘go-live’ schedule in the coming weeks.”

Due to the complexity of overhauling one of the largest networks of health care records in the world, Congress has been supportive, but unsure of how quickly and effectively the two largest government agencies could deliver the modernization effort. 

“With a project as complex, costly, and impactful as this one, the worst thing VA could do is jump the gun," according to a joint statement from Rep. Phi Roe, R-Tenn., the ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., the ranking member for the VA committee's subpanel on technology modernization. "We applaud VA for recognizing that more training and preparation is needed and taking the time to get this right." 

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said last week the abrupt firing after the department’s second in command, James Byrne, would have no impact on the scheduled launch of modernized health records. 

"I don't think [Byrne's termination] will impact it at all," Wilkie said Tuesday. "I sat down with the secretary of defense about a week ago and discussed where we are because this is a joint partnership with the Department of Defense. We are doing well. I think the Mission Act shows that this VA is capable of pulling off enormous, complex programs. I expect us to do well in this venture as we did with [the Mission Act]."

The Mission Act is a bipartisan measure intended to expand veterans’ access to private doctors. 

James Byrne was a key figure in the electronic records modernization, testifying before a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs subpanel in November that despite an uphill battle, he was confident about the planned launch in Spokane being on schedule. 

Twitter: @StevenBeynon