VA Announces Initial Reforms to Electronic Health Record Modernization Program at Hearing Led by Tester

(U.S. Senate) – At a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing chaired by U.S. Senator Jon Tester, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced an initial set of critical reforms to the Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) program. These reforms are consistent with those championed by Tester to address long-standing issues with the planning and deployment of the new system.  

Despite publicly praising the roll-out of the EHRM program, the previous Administration’s effort to bring VA’s health record system into the 21st century failed to deliver. Since the start, countless serious problems were ignored including training, technical issues and overall lack of sufficient Department support for the initial go-live facilities. To address these and other challenges, VA Secretary Denis McDonough launched a strategic review of EHRM earlier this year following a bipartisan, bicameral push by Tester and his colleagues. During today’s Committee hearing, VA announced that it will begin implementing bipartisan reforms backed by Tester, including measures to increase provider satisfaction and productivity, invest in infrastructure, improve staffing and training, and bolster transparency.

“Nearly nine months ago, VA rolled out its new electronic health record at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center,” said Tester. “At the time, VA officials described the rollout as ‘flawless.’ The former Secretary said it was revolutionary and boasted that ‘we just pulled off the most expensive IT program in government history.’ He said he only heard ‘crickets’ from the critics because it had gone so well. Well, guess what? Since a lot of those statements were made, we’re hearing from VA medical staff who are frustrated and demoralized by a new system that is making their jobs more difficult...So while some might describe this as a ‘flawless’ rollout, I think most people would use words like ‘alarming’ or something far worse.”

Tester continued, “The truth of the matter is, we have not gotten to where we need to go. There’s been many administrations between 2001 and today—none of which have gotten the job done. And so I would appreciate it if we could get the reports we’re entitled to lawfully, and that you’re as transparent as possible.”

The Department’s announced EHRM reforms track with Tester’s repeated calls for more oversight and changes to this program. Last July, the Senator led the charge in demanding transparency from the Trump Administration on the roll-out of the EHRM program, specifically calling for accurate cost estimates for the significant upgrades to VA’s physical and information technology infrastructure. Tester publicly responded to deficiencies reported by the VA Office of Inspector General last week. In addition, he called for measures to better engage VA clinical and support staff in the EHR system implementation. He also requested that VA identify clear metrics to assess the progress of the new EHR system, and make the information readily available to the public.

In 2019, Tester introduced the Build, Utilize, Invest, Lease, and Deliver (BUILD) for Veterans Act, bipartisan legislation requiring VA to identify infrastructure needs to ensure readiness for the EHRM project. After the previous Administration’s lack of transparency, he also worked to include a provision in the VA spending bill requiring the Department to provide a full account of EHR-related infrastructure costs.

Tester’s full Q&A is available HERE.