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Inspector General Finds Fault In Rollout Of Cerner's $10 Billion Contract For VA Health Records

Elana Gordon

In 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs awarded Cerner a $10 billion contract to modernize its electronic health care records system.

Cerner's rollout of a new system for electronic health records at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is under fire after the VA Inspector General fielded complaints during a pilot program.

Cerner was awarded the massive $10 billion contract in 2018 without competing against other bidders because VA officials hoped the software would integrate well with a similar system at the Department of Defense, which runs on similar Cerner software.

In a report released last week, the VA Inspector General found that hospital workers were not adequately trained on the new software during a pilot program at a small VA facility in Spokane, Washington.

One employee, who was not identified in the report by name, told investigators she had "a high anxiety level" after being trained on the new software by Cerner. "I didn't feel that I could call up a patient, discuss whatever I needed to and then document what I had discussed with the patient within (the software)."

In a survey, nearly two-thirds of facility staff said they had difficulty navigating the software, and only 5% felt fully prepared to use all primary functions of the survey.

VA officials found other problems with the rollout, including "frequent, recurring deficits in meeting project deadlines, staffing, management and quality of products."

The VA had hoped the Spokane facility could "go live" with the new software in March, but instead VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced a "strategic review" of the program.

"VA remains committed to (Cerner), and we must get this right," he said in the announcement.

Cerner, too, has reiterated its commitment to the project, telling KCUR in a statement that "Cerner and (the) VA have made progress toward achieving a lifetime of seamless care for our nation's veterans and we look forward to continuing this important mission."

The company's rollout of similar health care records systems for the Department of Defense began in 2017. Officials hope that, when properly integrated, the systems will allow VA medical providers full access to the medical records created while a service member was still in the military.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Chris comes to KCUR as part of Guns & America, a reporting collaboration between 10 public media stations that is focused on the role of guns in American life. Hailing from Springfield, Illinois, Chris has lived in seven states and four counties. He previously served in the Army, and reported for newspapers in Kansas and Michigan. Chris lives in downtown Kansas City. He roots for St. Louis sports teams, which means he no longer cares about the NFL.