At Oversight Hearing, Tester Stresses Urgent Need to Put Veterans First, Implement Reforms to VA’s Electronic Health Record Program

Chairman pressed VA and Oracle officials on improving patient safety and implementing independent watchdog’s recommendations, while urging Senate colleagues to confirm qualified VA nominee to strengthen oversight of new system

At a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee oversight hearing yesterday, Chairman Jon Tester pressed Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Oracle Cerner officials on serious reforms needed to the Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) Program.

During his questioning, Tester pushed VA’s Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Quality and Patient Safety, Dr. Gerald Cox, on patient safety issues in the new EHR, as highlighted in a recent report from the VA’s OIG. The Senator went on to stress the urgent need to implement the independent watchdog’s recommendations, stating: “The Inspector General’s [IG] recommendations need to be followed-through [on] and taken seriously…the fact that we have six recommendations that have gone out over two years….is completely unacceptable and needs to be addressed.”

Continuing his longtime push to increase the safety and effectiveness of the new EHR system, and press VA to address the serious concerns voiced by VA’s front-line medical staff using the technology, Tester called on VA Secretary Denis McDonough earlier this week to hire a permanent Executive Director for the Office of Functional Champion (OFC) and relocate that office to report directly to the Under Secretary for Health, the Department’s top health official. During their testimony, VA officials confirmed steps to improve the new EHR’s pharmacy system, at the request of Tester and a bipartisan group of Senate and House leaders. Following a push from Tester to not deploy the new system while patient safety and other concerns remained unresolved, VA yesterday also announced a delay of its planned deployment of the new EHR to Boise, Idaho, to allow time to resolve known risks and issues.

In his opening statement, Tester also underscored the critical role VA’s Under Secretary for Health (USH) plays in overseeing needed changes for the EHRM Program to best serve veterans and taxpayers, and reiterated his call to confirm Dr. Shereef Elnahal—the pending USH nominee. In May, Tester took to the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to put aside partisan politics and confirm the bipartisan nominee following a political hold on his confirmation.

Last month, President Biden signed the bipartisan and bicameral VA Electronic Health Record Transparency Act into law. This law will increase transparency and oversight of the EHR program by requiring the VA Secretary to submit additional reports to Congress regarding the costs, performance metrics, and patient safety issues related to the new EHR—areas of concern the VA OIG and Congress have repeatedly identified.