The move comes after repeated concerns from Congress about ongoing problems with implementation of VA’s Oracle Cerner Millennium software platform, the same records system being installed by the Department of Defense at its medical sites. Lawmakers were informed of the delay Friday night.
Department officials had planned to deploy the software at the Puget Sound VA Health Care System (American Lake and Seattle VA Medical Centers) this August, but will now delay that work until March 2023 instead.
In addition, plans to deploy the platform to the VA Portland Health Care System (Portland and Portland-Vancouver VA Medical Centers) will shift from this November to April 2023.
“In evaluating [the sites’] readiness for deployment, VA determined the system hadn’t shown adequate reliability to support the current schedule,” officials said in a statement.
“The date was changed to allow Oracle Cerner to put important system enhancements in place and make the necessary improvements to ensure system stability … as well as fix outstanding issues to address research workflow challenges.”
Steps already underway to deploy the system to VA sites in Idaho next month will remain unchanged, officials said.
The 10-year, $16-billion electronics health records overhaul has faced numerous delays in the past few years, both because of pandemic complications and implementation problems at initial rollout sites.
When then-President Donald Trump announced the plan in 2017, the goal was to provide a seamless, lifelong medical record for service members starting from their day of enlistment through their post-military life.
But putting the system into place at VA has proven challenging, with numerous problems and frustrations emerging from the initial rollout of the system at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Washington in 2020.
Last summer, VA Secretary Denis McDonough ordered a halt to the work so officials could evaluate and correct challenges that emerged there. But three months ago, the VA Inspector General’s Office said that serious safety issues regarding patient medications and mental health flags remained unresolved with the new system.
VA planners deployed the system to the Central Ohio Healthcare System in May, the third site so far in the implementation process. Department leaders said that work has progressed on schedule, and the delay of the other sites is not indicative of problems there.
But they acknowledge that “there have been unanticipated outages and system degradations from the onset of the new [health records] rollout” so far.
“The revised deployment schedule will enable Oracle Cerner to address these potential gaps in system reliability, particularly in the more complex sites that are upcoming,” officials said. “Between major deployments VA will continue to work vigorously to ensure that the system has the capability enhancements and is optimized to support deployment [at future sites].”
Department leaders also said they are committed to “safe and successful deployments” and the changes in deployment schedules are designed to prevent potential problems in the future.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.