Congresswoman calls for delay of new VA medical records system after computer crash at Spokane hospital

Congresswoman calls for delay of new VA medical records system after computer crash at Spokane hospital

More than a year after testing of a new records system began in October 2020, a spokesperson investigation found that issues with the system continue to threaten patient safety and have left Mann- Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane exhausted and demoralized, nearly two-thirds said in a recent internal poll that it made them consider quitting. (Facebook)

WASHINGTON — A congresswoman from Washington state is asking the Department of Veterans Affairs to delay the rollout of its multibillion-dollar electronic health record system after its recent crash at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, limiting veterans services and affecting the records of more than 200 patients.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., called for the postponement because another Washington-based VA medical center in Walla Walla is expected to launch the new registration system later this month. McMorris Rodgers said the Mann-Grandstaff closure was another in a series of challenges created for VA hospital staff and veterans.

“I stand by the request I made on February 3 that commissioning at Walla Walla be delayed until the VA can ensure the facility can maintain the highest levels of service for our veterans. , she said in a prepared statement.

McMorris Rodgers wrote a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough on Feb. 3, calling for a delay in rolling out the system to Walla Walla. She referenced ongoing issues at Mann-Grandstaff as the reason for the delay.

“If the new electronic health record provides anything less than the timely, landmark care that our veterans deserve, then it is not ready to serve the Walla Walla community – not so much that all the issues in outstanding are unresolved,” McMorris Rodgers wrote in his letter.

The VA began overhauling its electronic health record system in 2017. In May 2018, the agency awarded a contract to Cerner Corp., a Kansas City, Missouri-based health technology company, to render a system compatible with electronic health records. at the Ministry of Defence.

The March 3 system outage at Mann-Grandstaff happened amid a routine software upgrade, which caused a mix of patient data, according to Paula Paige, director of communications for the integration office. modernization of VA electronic health records. When a VA employee received a patient’s record, the system sometimes provided information for a different patient.

When this happened, Robert Fischer, the director of Mann-Grandstaff, asked employees to stop using the new electronic health record system, which they use to coordinate health care services for patients. , according to an email obtained by The Spokesman-Review, which was first to report the incident.

“Assume all electronic patient data is corrupt/inaccurate,” Fischer told employees in the email.

Services continued for patients already admitted to the hospital, but no new patients were admitted. Meanwhile, the hospital’s chief of surgery made assessments regarding the safety of ongoing surgeries.

“Mann-Grandstaff management rightly took the system offline until the extent of the problem was understood, so no patients were harmed,” McMorris Rodgers said in the statement.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that a technical failure by Cerner has led to patients being turned away at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a released statement.

The surgical schedule at the hospital was not interrupted due to the computer outage, the VA said.

At the time, Fischer also told Mann-Grandstaff employees to use “downtime procedures,” which involved employees writing patient information down on paper and entering it into the computer system once the system was working again.

Additionally, employees have been instructed to “do everything possible to limit” orders for medications, lab tests and x-rays. Shipments, which include prescriptions, have also been suspended.

The system was restored the next morning. However, employees were still unable to access some patient records, The Spokesman-Review reported.

The new electronic health record system is designed to connect VA medical centers and clinics with the Department of Defense and Coast Guard. The connection allows providers more information about a veteran’s medical history and provides a smoother transition from active duty to veteran status.

When the system overhaul began, some lawmakers expressed concerns about the project due to previous failed attempts by the VA and the Department of Defense to merge their systems. A previous plan involved upgrading VistA, the VA’s old electronic health record system. However, the plan was scrapped in 2013 due to cost issues after the VA and DOD spent approximately $1 billion.

The VA completed a review of its new $16 billion plan to overhaul the system last year after hearing concerns from staff in Spokane, where the electronic check-in system was first implemented. .

Mann-Grandstaff staff complained of technical issues with the system that were affecting patient care and employee morale. When McDonough took over in February 2021, he announced a 12-week break from the deployment to review the issues. The review found patient safety issues, rising costs, lack of productivity, and ineffective training on the new healthcare provider system, among other issues.

Last July, the VA promised a new approach to its health records system overhaul project, following concerns from federal watchdogs and employees who have used the program.

McDonough testified in July before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee about the challenges and the department’s plan moving forward. He promised there would be an “increase in activity” in the coming weeks and months to correct the problems.

Murray was one of the senators pressing McDonough that day, asking about patient safety, staff support and how the VA will avoid trouble at Mann-Grandstaff and other medical centers in the AV. Murray organized the supervision of the system deployment at the Mann-Grandstaff plant for over a year. She wrote a letter to former VA executives expressing concern about reports of staffing and installation issues and how it might impact system deployment.

The VA was scheduled to launch its electronic health record system on March 5 at the VA Central Ohio Health Care System in Columbus, but VA leaders pushed the rollout to April 30. The agency said a “significant number of the workforce”, about 209 people, were unable to work due to positive coronavirus cases. That number doubled in the week of Jan. 10, the VA said. Columbus was to be the second VA site to switch to the new system.

Despite the delayed rollout in Ohio, the VA still plans to roll out the system to a third site in Walla Walla on March 26. However, the agency is reviewing coronavirus cases there before moving forward.

The outage will not delay the rollout of the system to other facilities, the VA said.

Murray said she met with Walla Walla Hospital director Christopher Bjornberg last week to provide an update on the facility’s readiness for deployment.

“If their ability to deliver the high-quality care our veterans deserve becomes uncertain at any time — including up until the day before launch — deployment should be delayed,” Murray said. “I will continue to hold Cerner and VA accountable for the commitments they have made to me, both privately and publicly, to get it right.”

The VA said it provided Murray and McMorris Rodgers with information about the Mann-Grandstaff incident and the steps it had taken with Cerner to put in place corrective measures to resolve the technical issues.

“VA is satisfied that the technical issues resulting from this outage have been resolved and are moving forward with the implementation of the [electronic health record system] in other facilities,” Paige said. “Recognizing that system outages, while rare, can occur at facilities across the country, VA has established standard procedures for staff to follow that limit the impact on patient care.”

The VA will then launch the system in Roseburg and White City, Oregon on June 11, followed by Boise, Idaho on June 25, and Anchorage, Alaska on July 16. Other VA facilities in the Puget Sound area are expected to launch the system. August 27.