The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing on Wednesday afternoon to consider two bills that aim to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) troubled Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) program contract with Oracle Cerner.

The EHRM program is currently in the middle of a “program reset,” while the VA and Oracle Cerner focus on improvements at the five sites where the EHR system is currently deployed. However, at the July 12 hearing, lawmakers argued that more needs to be done.

“The reset VA announced this year was really badly needed, but we do need more than a reset,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said during the hearing. “We need reforms that make sure the problems with the EHR are not just fixed, but don’t ever happen again in the future.”

Sen. Murray introduced the EHR Program RESET Act earlier this year along with Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. The legislation aims to restructure and enhance the EHRM program, while also mandating frequent reporting to Congress to increase oversight, accountability, and transparency.

She said “it is painfully, devastatingly clear” that the EHR system is not working for veterans or providers, sharing that one of her constituents received a late cancer diagnosis “because the system didn’t work the way it’s supposed to.”

The second bill that aims to improve the EHRM program – the Department of Veterans Affairs EHRM Standardization and Accountability Act – shares similar goals. Ranking Member Jerry Moran, R-Kan., introduced the bill earlier this year along with 11 other Republican senators.

This bill would establish a list of requirements that the VA must meet before deploying the EHR system at any other VA medical centers.

“Ultimately, this bill facilitates a more thoughtful and evidence-based implementation, increasing the likelihood of success and improving patient outcomes in the long run,” Sen. Moran said during the hearing.

He also acknowledged that the two bills “are similar in certain ways… which suggests to me that we can find a path forward working together.”

While the VA shares the same goals of improving the EHRM program, it also raised some concerns about the two bills. Dr. Miguel LaPuz, assistant under secretary for health for integrated veteran care at the VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA), suggested the bills could create challenges in the future.

“Regarding the two electronic health record modernization bills, VA is committed to continued improvement of this program. And we are keeping you and your staff and key stakeholders informed of these efforts,” Dr. LaPuz said. “Health care, and particularly healthcare information technology, is dynamic and needs to be responsive to veterans and clinicians’ needs. We strongly caution against enacting requirements that may address today’s situation, but could create unintended outcomes in the future.”

In his written testimony, Dr. LaPuz raised concerns regarding the legislation’s timelines to address system issues, noting they are “too short” and “not feasible.” Additionally, he said certain metrics outlined in the bills are “too rigid and will not allow for the risk-based decision making.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.