What You Can Learn from the VA’s EHR Disaster

The Department of Veterans Affairs has come under scrutiny as of late for their health care system. Critics have pointed out that not only does the organization struggle with the quality of care they provide, they also struggle with the accessibility of care too. Veterans may receive subpar services or be forced to travel to far-off centers to receive discounted or free care. A new EHR was supposed to help the VA clarify many of these issues, but as it turned out, it may have just wasted more than a billion dollars on a system that turned out to be unusable. See just how this happened, and what you can do to avoid a similar EHR disaster.

Five Years of Searching

A new audit recently came out that showed the VA worked with more than 135 vendors and paid around $1.1 billion to wind up with an EHR that only served to slow down communication. The goal was to modernize their system so that services could be scheduled, fulfilled, and recorded quickly and easily. From billing to internal notes to administrative tools, the EHR was meant to put staff and patients on the same page and eliminate ambiguities in what was done. However, the reality of the system ended up confusing, frustrating, and upsetting practically everyone who had to use it. Now, the VA is planning to spend another $10 billion on a brand new system — one that requires a complete overhaul of their last one.

Scaling the Operations

It’s clear that the VA is on a very different level from most organizations. They have more than 9 million registered people in the health care system, 50 major hospitals, and more than 800 out-patient clinics alone to serve the millions of veterans who depend on them for healthcare. In addition, the EHR was integrated with the Department of Defense (DoD), which further complicated matters. However, despite the fact that the VA is a huge operation, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t an easier way to upgrade their EHR system. Part of the problem seems to be that the VA wasn’t sure what to look for in a contractor before proceeding with the implementation of their system.

Lack of Forethought

There is a lot of speculation and criticism that has come out with this new audit. Part of the reason why the VA seems to have made this epic mistake seems to be due to a lack of forethought. There was more than one platform being used at any given time between the DoD and the VA, and the communication wasn’t anywhere close to the level the two organizations required. The CIO for the VA, Steve Blackburn, stated that the new plan is to buy an EHR system off-the-shelf as opposed to one that can be highly customized. Presumably, the customization features of their previous EHR complicated matters.

A New Plan

The VA is now hoping to use one common platform to connect everyone in the operation, from the top levels of the VA and DoD to the administrative staff at the service centers. Communication methods will be standardized, as will questions of authority, financial information, and organization methods. Every hospital can learn from this disaster because these are issues that everyone in healthcare struggles to find the best possible solutions for. The right EHR needs to not only account for a staff’s current problems, it also needs to be flexible enough to fit a staff’s needs in the foreseeable future as well.