The Department of Veterans Affairs is delaying the launch of its massive $16 billion electronic health record system again, this time because of the coronavirus pandemic.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said in a statement Wednesday that VA announced the delay April 3 "due to the necessary reallocation of staff to combat the COVID-19 pandemic."
As of Wednesday afternoon, VA had issued no public news releases on its website about the delay, but VA Press Secretary Christina Noel provided Connecting Vets the letter VA Secretary Robert Wilkie sent to lawmakers last week.
"The worldwide pandemic created by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has shifted the overall priorities of the Department of Veterans Affairs," Wilkie wrote. "With VA medical centers reallocating staff to manage veteran patients with COVID-10, I directed the Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization to immediately shift to a non-intrusive posture with VA healthcare operations to allow our frontline clinicians to focus on veteran care."
Wilkie said VA "remains committed" to the EHR overhaul and EHR software is now "over 99 percent complete, with 72 of 73 interfaces complete and ready for testing" and "99 percent of the new clinician training system."
VA and the Defense Department remain on track for an interagency partnership to share health records, Wilkie said, with expected launch "at the end of April 2020."
Wilkie did not provide an estimated date for the EHR launch but said work is ongoing.
VA previously announced a delay of the system's launch in February.
Takano said if VA is not ready, the EHR project should be delayed.
"The COVID-19 pandemic is a clear reason to postpone given the critical need to have EHRM staff on the frontlines in the fight against coronavirus," Takano said. "But as this emergency passes, we must make sure that VA does not lose sight of the need for strong employee engagement. Failure to communicate with these employees was a significant factor that contributed to the initial implementation delay. Congress stands ready to support VA throughout this crisis and the delays in EHRM implementation.”