At Hearing, Tester Presses VA and Oracle Cerner on Electronic Health Record System Roll-Out

Tester emphasized need to fix existing challenges before continuing implementation of the new EHR system

(U.S. Senate) – At a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies hearing today, U.S. Senator Jon Tester questioned Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Oracle Cerner, and VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) officials on implementation of the Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) Program.

Tester underscored the importance of VA and Oracle Cerner leaders fixing challenges already identified with the new system before moving to continue its roll-out at other hospitals and clinics, stating: “Getting this right is really important…it’s your responsibility now to either figure it out and move forward, or figure out a different way to go…when do you anticipate in 2023 to implement an install?”

“We’re looking closely at the schedule and realizing there are issues that need to be resolved before we can go live,” replied VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy.

Tester continued, “I don’t want anything implemented before it’s ready for prime time, but on the same token, we’ve got an investment in a program that needs to start delivering…Same with Cerner…you have to hold yourselves accountable, and we need to get this damn thing done.” 

Tester also questioned VA Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Shereef Elnahal, on his recent visit to the VA health care facility in Columbus, Ohio, which started deploying the new EHR in late April. Dr. Elnahal cited his concerns, and those he heard directly from frontline employees, with the roll-out, including high levels of staff burn out and frustration with the technology.

During the second panel, Tester pressed Mike Sicilia, Executive Vice President for Oracle Cerner, on the company’s communication with VA and timeline for the EHR project—underscoring the company’s responsibility to resolve system stability, patient safety, and other challenges identified by the Department and Congress with the new EHR.

“I’m holding VA accountable—but what I’m not holding VA accountable for is a computer program that works to make sure we don’t burn out employees, to make sure that veterans get the health care they need. They can’t go live until it meets those measures,” Tester continued.

Continuing his longtime push to increase the safety and effectiveness of the new EHR system—and address serious concerns voiced by VA’s frontline medical staff using the technology—Tester led a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee oversight hearing in July to evaluate reforms needed to the EHRM Program. Ahead of that hearing, VA also announced they were delaying their planned deployment of the new EHR at VA facilities for the remainder of 2022.

In June, President Biden signed Tester’s bipartisan and bicameral VA Electronic Health Record Transparency Act into law. This law will increase transparency and oversight of the EHR project by requiring the VA Secretary to submit additional reports to Congress regarding the costs, performance metrics, and patient safety issues related to the new EHR—areas of concern the VA OIG and Congress have repeatedly identified.