Lawmakers Move to Strengthen Congress’ Oversight of VA’s EHR Implementation

Nov. 6, 2017
A group of bipartisan lawmakers from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs introduced legislation last week to give Congress additional oversight to monitor the VA's transition to its new Cerner EHR system.

A group of bipartisan lawmakers from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs introduced legislation last week to give Congress additional oversight to monitor the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) transition to its new Cerner electronic health record (EHR) system.

Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-Minn.), along with Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Committee Chairman Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) and Ranking Member Annie Kuster (D-NH), introduced the Veterans’ Electronic Health Record Modernization Oversight Act of 2017.

In June 2017, the VA announced its plan to replace its Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) with the Cerner Millennium EHR system, with the Department of Defense (DoD) is already implementing. In the announcement, VA cited the need to achieve seamless interoperability with DoD and a desire to reallocate resources away from in-house software development and back into core functions of VA.

 “The transition to a new electronic records system will impact nearly every aspect of veterans’ health care, and congressional oversight is critical to ensure this effort is carried out responsibly and successfully,” the lawmakers wrote in a summary of the bill.

The legislation directs VA to provide Congress with the project’s key planning and implementation documents, in addition to copies of the contracts, to indicate the effort’s progress and how the money is being spent. The legislation also requires VA to notify Congress in the event of any significant cost increase, schedule delay, loss of veteran health data or breach of privacy.

Chairman Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) called the bill “essential legislation that will give Congress additional tools to carry out effective oversight of this challenging undertaking.” Chairman Roe also said in a statement, “As chairman and a physician, I know firsthand the value an effective electronic health records system plays in providing patients with quality health care. The transition to the Cerner system aims to achieve seamless interoperability with the Department of Defense, which has been one of my priorities since coming to Congress, and will be one of the largest projects the department has been tasked with implementing.”

“It is well known that large IT modernization projects, particularly those in the government, often encounter significant problems,” Oversight and Investigations Committee Chairman Bergman said in a statement. “It’s also no secret that VA has a poor track record of keeping Congress informed regarding its modernization efforts. While it appears the VA has made strides to improve the flow of information, complete transparency is essential for the modernization of its electronic health record. This legislation ensures Congress has access to key implementation documents within the VA to enable the rigorous oversight required by all who are served by the VA.”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs’ outdated electronic health records (EHR) system has posed a persistent challenge to efforts to improve care for veterans,” Oversight and Investigations committee Ranking Member Kuster said. “I’m pleased that VA has decided to move forward with modernization of their records system so that VA’s EHR system will be able to operate seamlessly with healthcare facilities outside of the VA network. This legislation will ensure that this process is undertaken with the transparency and accountability necessary.”

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