The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has signed a 10-year, $10 billion Electronic Health Record (EHR) contract with Cerner to modernize the agency’s healthcare IT systems, VA Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie announced late Thursday.
By putting pen to paper, VA has ended a highly-publicized and oft-debated contract saga that seemed in further jeopardy when former Secretary Robert Shulkin, who first proposed the Cerner contract, was ousted by President Trump last month.
Doubts about the contract’s status grew following more changes to VA’s top leadership just two weeks later as Acting CIO Scott Blackburn–one of the main figures overseeing EHR modernization efforts–stepped down last month.
Following his departure, Blackburn said plans to finalize the deal were ongoing, and despite a period of contractual limbo and a tumultuous cycling of VA’s top brass, the acting head of the agency was able to make the final push on the deal.
“When fully deployed, the new system will represent a monumental advance in Veterans’ health care–bigger than VA’s initial deployment of electronic health records 40 years ago,” Wilkie said in a statement. “Signing this contract today is an enormous win for our nation’s Veterans. It puts in place a modern IT system that will support the best possible health care for decades to come. That’s exactly what our nation’s heroes deserve.”
VA will adopt the same EHR platform developed by Cerner and currently in use and ongoing development at the Department of Defense, providing interoperability between the two departments. “Patient data will be seamlessly shared between VA, DoD, and community providers through a secure system,” Wilkie said.
While VA soon will begin development on the new EHR platform, it may be several years before the agency’s current system–VistA–is finally sunset, according to Blackburn.
The FY2018 omnibus spending bill approved by Congress provides $782 million to VA for the EHR modernization initiative–a significant sum but short of the $1.2 billion the department had requested.