The first site in the embattled $16B Cerner VA project goes live

• A US Department of  Veterans  Affairs hospital was commissioned with a new Cerner EHR platform over the weekend. This is an important step in the agency’s vast and problematic IT modernization program.

• The new EHR is operating at the Mann-Grand Staff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., As well as the center’s four outpatient departments in Washington, Montana, and Idaho and an operations center in Las Vegas, Cerner said Monday. The facility was originally scheduled to be commissioned in March but has been delayed twice.

• This is the first start of the $ 16 billion technology project that has suffered from delays, management revenues, rising costs, and operational issues since its launch in 2018.

The start-up is an important step for VA in its 10-year commitment to modernize its IT infrastructure in the healthcare sector. This is the first time that three federal departments (VA, Department of Defense, and United States Coast Guard) have used the same EHR system, Cerner said.

VA launched the $ 10 billion project in May 2018 to migrate its health data from its custom VistA platform to a Cerner unified EHR and align with DOD, which has already started using the MHS Genesis platform of Cerner.

The project faced a variety of challenges from the start, including the strain on senior healthcare IT staff and rising costs. Spending has increased from $ 10 billion to $ 16 billion to meet growing management and infrastructure needs.

The VA Inspector General’s office announced in April that VA was not sufficiently prepared for the project and that its extensive network of inpatient and outpatient facilities required significant improvements to its physical and IT infrastructure before it could move forward be ready for a new EHR system. This lack of preparation contributed to the delays and compromised the implementation of the EHR, the OIG said.

The COVID-19 pandemic turned out to be another stressor that changed the project’s planned implementation plan. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie tasked his office in early April with reallocating resources to fight the coronavirus pandemic. It was the second major delay this year after a hiatus in February after testing the new system. Mann-Grand’s employee system raised usability issues.

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, a senior member of the House Veterans’ Subcommittee on Technological Modernization, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that Saturday’s launch would be a success.

“Tomorrow’s first startup is the start of a long journey and the challenges are likely to be greater in the future,” Banks said in a statement.

The project restarted in August. VA, which operates 170 hospitals and more than 1,000 outpatient facilities, plans to roll out the system nationwide by 2028. The goal is to make VA facilities fully compatible by linking existing records of service members and transmitting them to promote continuity of care.