When President Donald Trump swept into office, he promised that veterans and active-duty soldiers would finally receive the attention, care, and resources that they deserved. One of the biggest initiatives was the implementation of the $4.3 billion Cerner medical record system. In theory, the system would have greatly reduced administrative burdens, allowing doctors to focus on patients rather than administrative tasks. In practice, the rollout has been a nightmare.
Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, recently called into question replacing the legacy medical records system with the new Cerner medical records system. After visiting military facilities and talking with doctors, Rep. Roe discovered that much of the data that was supposed to be transferred to the Cerner medical record system simply never was.
It’s not just a matter of convenience, mind you. If doctors are unable to obtain records through the new system, they will have to spend several extra minutes looking-up records through the old legacy system. This means more time spent administrating and less time spent doctoring. With doctors already struggling with large workloads, any time spent away from patients becomes more of a strain.
“The bottom line is…the Cerner user build is immature and needs to be brought up to a functional level. There were some expectations at higher levels that this…was an out-of-the-box solution that would work perfectly, but it didn’t,” said Bob Marshall, IT specialist at Madigan Army Medical Center.
Roe’s run-in was with active-duty soldiers, not military veterans. VA Secretary David Shulkin has assured Roe and other officials that the record transfer issues won’t impact the VA department. Yet concerns over the new system persist. Currently, the VA department is rolling out the new software at four Pacific Northwest military medical facilities.
In a scathing report, Politico has dug even further. The publication claims that doctors have suggested that their coworkers have quit over frustrations related to the new medical record-keeping system. Apparently, some doctors believed that they might even end up hurting patients.
It’s not just that doctors are having trouble accessing medical records either. Indeed, it appears that the Cerner medical system has been spitting out the wrong prescriptions at pharmacies, and referrals are failing to make their way to specialists. The VA department has already been under fire, with many accusing it of being a plodding, slow, and unresponsive bureaucracy. IT troubles are certain to exacerbate the criticism, and sadly veterans will have to bear the brunt of any mishaps.
Worse, patients might actually be dying because of software mishaps. One military patient was admitted with a critical heart condition. The doctors were trying to treat the patient and requested medical records. However, the records were sent to the wrong hospital and lost. The patient ended up receiving the wrong treatment and subsequently died.
The new system was authorized under the Obama administration. Back in 2015, defense officials signed the $4.3 billion 10-year Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, hoping that a modernized record-keeping system would alleviate some strain at often overworked and understaffed VA facilities. However, the complexities of medical records, privacy laws, and the security needs of the military itself have all created many complications.
The VA Department is expected to shell out around $10 billion to implement the Cerner records software system-wide. Combined, the Cerner record system will hold records for 19 million people in both the VA system and the military.