Coronavirus surge delays VA’s rollout in Ohio of electronic health record system
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WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs delayed the rollout of its new $16 billion electronic health record system in Ohio because of major staff shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the agency announced Friday.
The electronic health record was set to launch March 5 at the VA Central Ohio Health Care System in Columbus, but VA leaders pushed the rollout to April 30. The agency said a “significant number of the workforce,” approximately 209 people, are unable to work because of positive cases of the coronavirus. That number has doubled in the past week, the VA said.
The department has been training employees how to use the system ahead of the launch. Moving forward with the training during the surge of coronavirus cases would have a negative effect on medical care, the agency said.
“As we see the pandemic surge in the Columbus community, we need to support the medical professionals while they focus their attention on meeting the health care needs of their patients,” said Terry Adirim, who manages the VA’s electronic health record efforts. “EHR deployment activities must be weighed against community health and can be resumed when it is appropriate to do so.”
The number of coronavirus cases in Franklin County, Ohio, surged 153% during the past two weeks, the VA said. The rise in cases among VA employees in Columbus is “one of the largest changes in this status across all VA medical facilities nationwide,” according to the department.
In 2017, the VA started to overhaul its electronic health record system. It awarded a contract to Cerner Corp., a technology company in Kansas City, Mo. The new system is supposed to be capable of sharing patient data seamlessly with the Defense Department, which could limit problems when a service member transitions out of the military.
Columbus was expected to be the second VA site to transition to the new system. It first went live at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., in 2020, but staff there complained they were not introduced to the system until the day that it launched and didn’t know how to use it.
Shortly after becoming the VA secretary in February 2021, Denis McDonough paused the project and ordered a 12-week internal review. The review revealed patient-safety problems, escalating costs, a lack of productivity and ineffective training on the new system for health-care providers, among other issues.
McDonough vowed to correct the problems before deploying it in Columbus. In a report released in November, the VA outlined its lessons learned from the Spokane rollout. It listed 11 facilities at which the electronic health record is supposed to launch in 2022.
The department planned for the system to deploy at a third site in Walla Walla, Wash., just weeks after the Columbus launch. However, the agency is reviewing coronavirus cases there before moving forward.
“VA officials are continuously reviewing the conditions at upcoming implementation sites to ensure local conditions allow for a safe deployment,” the agency said.