VA plans to launch delayed $16B electronic health record system this fall with new appointment tool

Photo credit Photo by Senior Airman Kasey Zickmund

By April of this year, the Department of Veterans Affairs had already twice delayed the launch of its massive, much-anticipated $16 billion electronic health record system. A recent Inspector General report said the department's efforts were failing. 

But now, VA says it plans to rollout the system this fall, along with a new appointment tool.

The new health record system, intended to create a universal electronic health record for troops and veterans, has been a multi-year project for VA and the Pentagon. But this is just the most recent version in a track record of past failures to overhaul the records systems for both federal agencies that have met delay after delay and billions of dollars already spent.

After another delay, VA's massive $16B electronic health record overhaul is failing, IG says

On Monday, VA announced the beginning of a rollout for a new appointment scheduling tool beginning at the VA Central Ohio Healthcare System. 

The Centralized Scheduling Solution is intended to be a "critical component" of the new electronic health record system by expediting care coordination throughout VA, the department said in a news release. 

VA's current scheduling system requires staff to "log in to multiple software applications to coordinate calendars, clinicians, rooms and equipment. This process requires time-intensive manual data entry and workarounds to finalize appointments."

The new scheduling tool is expected to address those problems by providing an "all-in-one" appointment scheduler. 

The new appointment tool has already launched in Ohio, and the overall electronic health record system is set to begin launching this fall, according to the department.

“VA has delivered an enhanced scheduling system that will benefit veterans and health care providers,” said Acting VA Deputy Secretary Pamela Powers, who is overseeing the electronic health record project following the dismissal of former Deputy Secretary James Byrne. “This is another successful launch of a major milestone in the EHRM effort and will optimize veterans’ access to health care by improving appointment scheduling. CSS also provides an efficient and transparent method of identifying and eliminating double bookings, flagging canceled appointments and maximizing provider time spent with patients.”

Problems implementing the new system were outlined in reports released in April by the VA Inspector General, including that VA expects the system to cost another $6.1 billion more than the initial $10 billion 10-year contract with Kansas-based Cerner Corp. That contract was awarded without competitive bidding. 

"There are tremendous costs and challenges associated with this effort," one of the reports said. 

Of that additional $6.1 billion, about $4.3 billion is for infrastructure, including IT equipment. VA has been plagued by outdated IT systems -- some dating back nearly 50 years. 

"I will admit that VA has been underfunded on IT efforts," Secretary Robert Wilkie told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing in February. 

The reports showed major delays and failures of oversight that could put veteran patients at risk, along with failures to train staff and provide adequate equipment, such as computers capable of handling the new system. 

VA has delayed launching the new health record system multiple times over the years -- twice so far this year. 

In February of this year, VA delayed the electronic health record rollout with no notice to Congress, prompting outrage from some lawmakers who said they felt blindsided. 

Weeks later at a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, Wilkie told lawmakers VA was "on the verge" of delivering the new system, which had been delayed until July. 

Less than two weeks later, VA suddenly announced it would delay the EHR launch again, this time blaming the coronavirus pandemic. 

VA delays launch of massive $16B