The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has made progress on implementing its new electronic health records (EHR) system, but should postpone deployments of the system at additional locations because additional testing will likely identify issues that need to be resolved first, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report.

In May 2018, VA took steps to replace its 30-year old health records system with a new system contracted at $10 billion over 10 years. By Oct. 2020, a GAO briefing had detailed that VA “made progress toward implementing its new [EHR] system by making system configuration decisions, developing system capabilities and system interfaces, conducting end user training, and completing system testing events.”

In that same briefing, however, GAO said that VA had yet to resolve all critical severity test findings which could result in a system failure. Also, VA had not resolved all high severity test findings which could result in a system failure, but have acceptable workarounds. GAO found that as of Sept. 2020, 17 critical severity test findings and 361 high severity test findings remained open, and said that could leave VA at risk of deploying a system that failed to perform – and impact adoption.

“VA deployed its new EHR system in Spokane, Washington, on Oct. 24, 2020, with no open critical severity test findings and with 306 of the 361 high severity test findings closed,” GAO noted in its Feb. 11 report. “Of the 55 remaining, 47 had workarounds that were accepted by the user community, seven were associated with future deployments, and one had a solution identified at the time of initial deployment. VA’s actions reflect implementation of GAO’s October recommendations.”

GAO noted however, that if VA continues with deployment of additional capabilities at new locations, it will likely identify new critical and high severity test findings.

GAO recommends that VA postpone deployment of its new EHR system at planned locations “until existing open critical severity test findings are resolved and closed, and until any additional critical severity findings identified before planned deployment are closed.”

GAO made a second recommendation regarding the postponement of EHR deployment at new locations until high severity test findings are resolved, closed, or deferred and high severity test findings found before planned deployment are closed or deferred.

VA concurred in principle with both recommendations, GAO said.

“Specifically, VA stated that it plans to continue to test and appropriately adjudicate all critical severity and high severity test findings prior to future deployments,” the report said. “The department added that it plans to resolve and close all critical severity and high severity test findings by January 2022.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.