The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) told members of Congress today that it is going “back to the drawing board” to develop a new deployment schedule for its Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) program, with hopes to resume the program in the summer of 2024.

The EHRM program is currently in the middle of a “program reset,” while the VA and contractor Oracle Cerner focus on improvements at the five sites where the EHR system is currently deployed.

The only exception to the full-stop on EHRM deployment activities is at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center near Chicago – the only healthcare facility to serve both DoD and VA patients. The new EHR system is scheduled to go-live at this site in March 2024.

Dr. Neil Evans, acting program executive director of the EHRM Integration Office, told members of the House Appropriations’ VA subcommittee today that restarting the program will require both a “sustained positive trajectory” on the VA’s success metrics, as well as a successful launch of the EHR at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center.

“We will go live in the spring and with these EHR rollouts, it’s usually a month or two that we actually see things settle in after we go live with the new system, and we’re able to see the impact of that go-live,” Dr. Evans said.

“So, if we go live in March,” he continued, “I think we’re going to have a lot of information – with regard to our progress on the metrics that we’ll be setting and the success at James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center – that in the summer of 2024, and even before that, we should be having real discussions about whether we’re ready to move forward with restart.”

Dr. Evans added that the VA will continue to have discussions with Oracle in order to move the program in a positive direction, noting that they both feel a sense of urgency to restart the EHRM and provide better service to veterans.

“We don’t want to stay in reset forever,” Dr. Evans said. “In fact, I would argue that we’re at higher risk the longer we maintain a health care system that’s running two different electronic health record systems. So, we need to feel an urgency to move forward and get back to a single electronic health record system that supports the enterprise. I feel that urgency, I know that [the Veterans Health Administration] leadership feels that urgency, I know the vendor feels that urgency – we will be together making that decision.”

“In short, we are going back to the drawing board with regard to what the schedule should look like, taking into account the investments we already made,” he added. “But, we’ve committed that at the end of the reset, we will publish a schedule.”

Mike Sicilia, executive vice president of Oracle Global Industries, agreed with Dr. Evans, noting that prior to Oracle getting involved, the VA had to deal with a lot of technical system issues that delayed the program and “were frankly a distraction.”

“If the plane’s fairly turbulent when you’re flying, it’s hard to serve hot coffee,” Sicilia explained. “I’m much happier to now begin the thing where we’re looking at configurations, which is ‘how do you like your coffee’ rather than, ‘put your lap belt on pretty tight.’ And that was the situation we were in prior to getting involved.”

During this reset period, Sicilia said his company is working with the VA to make 270 workflow reconfigurations, which will result in “more intuitive system interactions for VA providers.” With the current pace of the reset activities, he agreed that they should be looking to put an end to the reset next year.

“I would concur with Dr. Evans’ timeframe that it seems to me that next summer, we should be in a position particularly with the go-live – which I think is trending well – in March that we should be in position to resume go-lives,” Sicilia said. “That is our expectation.”

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