By Sandra Basu
WASHINGTON—After announcing VA’s decision earlier this year to replace VistA with the same electronic health record (EHR) that DoD is using, VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, made a trip to Capitol Hill last month to implore lawmakers to “quickly” approve funding needed to begin the project.
“We want to work with Congress to find a common solution to funding this EHR modernization plan in FY 2018,” Shulkin said.
Absent an appropriations bill by the end of the year, the agency would like permission to allow the agency to reprogram funds from its internal accounts. That would allow VA to award the new Cerner contract and put in place infrastructure to support the new system, among other things, Shulkin explained.
The VA secretary made his comments at a hearing last month held by the House Committee on Appropriations Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, where he discussed plans for the new EHR.
“Adopting the same EHR as DoD will vastly improve VA services and significantly enhance the coordination of care for veterans, not only at VA facilities but also at the Department of Defense and with community providers,” Shulkin explained.
VA officials explained that funding is needed quickly so the agency can piggyback its EHR deployment and implementation on DoD’s implementation, which has already started in the Pacific Northwest. If VA deploys in that region there will be “substantial efficiencies,” said VA Electronic Health Records Modernization Program Executive John Windom.
“By us deploying into the same geographical area, we’ll be able to leverage the resources that are already in that area,” he explained
Missing the opportunity to align efforts with DoD would add “at least 5% to the total project,” Shulkin said.
“We are in somewhat of a time crunch in that, in order for us to achieve the efficiencies … we do need to align closely with the DoD implementation, so we are trying to do the best thing for taxpayers here,” he said.
VA anticipates that it can begin to deploy the new EHR at its first site within 18 months of signing a contract and can complete the deployment within 10 years.