(U.S. Senate) – Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and his Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee colleagues U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are spearheading a legislative push to deliver a complete overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) program.
The Senators will be introducing comprehensive legislation in the coming days that would require VA to implement a series of EHRM reforms to better serve veterans, medical personnel, and taxpayers. Their bill would restructure, enhance, and strengthen the entire EHRM program while also mandating aggressive reporting to Congress to increase oversight, accountability, and transparency following a series of challenges with the system and program, including those found in VA’s recent EHRM Sprint Report and a review from the Government Accountability Office. This is just the latest in a series of challenges related to the program which launched in 2017 and was deployed at the first VA hospital in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s clear that the new EHR system is failing veterans, medical personnel, and taxpayers, and we need aggressive measures to right this ship and get a better return on investment through this contract,” said Chairman Tester. “That’s why my colleagues and I are putting forth comprehensive legislation to increase transparency and oversight over the new electronic health record system—holding VA and Oracle Cerner accountable on behalf of the men and women who risked their lives to defend our country. Veterans deserve nothing less, and I won’t back down from our continued commitment to safely deliver them the health care they need and earned.”
“I have been clear from the start—VA cannot continue with its current EHR system until it works for providers and keeps patients safe. This legislation will put into law the kind of aggressive oversight necessary to fix the current system—that’s my first priority,” said Senator Murray. “Importantly, this set of reforms will also overhaul the contracts and acquisitions process so that the issues we’ve seen these last few years can be prevented in the future. I want to make sure the dedicated providers at VA can do their jobs and that our veterans are getting the high quality care they have earned and deserve. Let’s pass the EHR Program RESET Act as soon as possible.”
“Too many veterans and workers have faced confusion and unnecessary problems because of VA’s Electronic Health Record rollout. VA needs a reset, and must meet specific metrics on patient safety, cost, and VA employee productivity, to improve morale and improve veterans’ experiences when they turn to the VA for care,” said Senator Brown. “As VA employees at Chalmers in Columbus continue to work through issues related to Oracle Cerner’s product, I’ll continue fighting for them, and for the veterans they serve, to improve this program before the Department moves forward with any other VA facilities.”
Among its many provisions, the Senators’ legislation would require VA to:
- Develop clear metrics to guide whether and how VA should go forward with the new EHR at additional VA facilities and require additional resources to support those facilities;
- Require VA and Oracle Cerner to fix the technology features connected to the health safety and delivery issues found in VA’s March 2023 Sprint Report;
- Not move forward with the new EHR at other VA health facilities until the data at the existing five facilities demonstrates an ability to deliver health care to veterans at standards that surpass metrics using VA’s VistA system or that meet national health operations standards as determined by the Under Secretary for Health;
- Appoint a lead senior negotiator and leverage other federal agencies and independent outside experts to offer advice and strategies for managing aggressive EHR contract negotiations with Oracle Cerner to protect taxpayers and veterans;
- Develop an alternative “Plan B” strategy for a new EHR in the event Oracle Cerner will not agree to new contract terms that protect taxpayers and increase accountability and penalties for poor performance or when VA data shows it cannot get the technology to work to serve veterans efficiently and safely;
- Reform major acquisitions at VA to prevent future programs with poor contracting, oversight, management, and planning from occurring; and
- Require an existing VA Advisory Committee to add health care experts with proven experience implementing EHR deployments to advise VA leaders on potential strategies on how to improve VA EHRM’s implementation based on prior lessons learned in the private and non-profit health sectors.
The legislation would also require the Department of Defense (DoD) to report to Congress quarterly on steps it is taking fix DoD information technology systems, including those which are outdated and are negatively impacting VA’s ability to deliver health care, benefits, and other services, including through the new EHR.