The Department of Defense and the Veterans Affairs department announced the creation of a special office to help centralize decision-making as the VA makes a multi-billion dollar electronic health records upgrade.
The Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization (FEHRM) office will replace the current Interagency Program Office, headed by Lauren Thompson.
WHY IT MATTERS
“This management model creates a centralized structure for interagency decisions related to EHR modernization, accountable to both the VA and the DoD Deputy Secretaries,” FCW reported Thompson as saying during her testimony at a June 12 hearing of the Subcommittee on Technology Modernization of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Ranking member of the subcommittee Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) noted during the hearing that lack of interoperability and clear management had been a continuing struggle, and it remains unclear if the new office will help keep the transition on schedule.
Plans were also revealed to implement a pilot program that will see all veterans receive a unique ID number to help track individuals’ medical records after they leave service.
THE LARGER TREND
The announcement comes as the VA department wrangles with a $16 billion implementation of the Cerner electronic health records system, which is slated to go live across care sites by 2028, but the lack of interoperability between DoD and VA remains a major stumbling block.
While progress is being made, the sheer vastness of the task – 1,700 sites, training of 300,000 VA employees and aggregation of decades of clinical data – delays in decision making and workflow difficulties have been challenges.
The VA signed a contract with Cerner in 2018 to replace the department’s 40-year-old legacy Veterans Integrated System Technology Architecture (Vista) healthcare records technology over the next 10 years with the Cerner system, which is currently in the pilot phase at DoD.
However, an array of major challenges with the DoD’s EHR modernization came to light last spring, with many IT, training and workflow hiccups reportedly causing inaccurate prescriptions, misdirected patient referrals and other complaints that clinicians said could put patient safety at risk.
Further complicating matters was the first House VA Subcommittee on Technology Modernization hearing, held in September 2018, which revealed that officials and congressional members are not on the same page when it comes to governance and EHR interoperability.
In January, the Senate confirmed James Gfrerer, a former marine and cybersecurity executive at Ernst & Young, to head the VA’s IT department — a position that has been without a permanent leader for the past two years.
The VA has also partnered with Microsoft with the aim of improving how veterans living in rural areas can access the VA’s online services and benefits.
Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.
Email the writer: [email protected]
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