VA and Cerner are investigating the cause of the outage of Spokane’s electronic medical records

Written by John Hewitt Jones

The Department of Veterans Affairs and medical records company Cerner will conduct a “full root cause analysis” and create an action plan to prevent further outages after an electronic health record system was affected by a software glitch earlier this month.

A department spokesman confirmed to FedScoop that the tracking system was taken offline around 1:30 p.m. on March 3 after a technical defect was discovered in a software update.

As a result of the software bug, the system messed up certain patient records, prompting staff at Mann Grandstaff Hospital in Virginia and affiliated clinics in Washington and Idaho to resort to paper records.

It’s the latest issue affecting the VA’s troubled electronic health record modernization program that has drawn the ire of lawmakers and frontline medical workers.

VA has been working to correct errors caused in veterans’ health records as a result of system data confusion, and as of March 17 only five records remained to be corrected, the department said.

The outage affected the records of veterans being treated at Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center in Spokane and clinics in Wenatchee, Washington. Libby, Montana; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and Sandpoint, Idaho.

The VA Medical Center in Spokane was the first rollout site for the department’s 10-year effort to move away from the open-source Veterans Health Information System Technology (VistA) architecture and bring VA and DOD data into one migrate to a cloud system developed by Cerner.

Details of the outage come after the VA’s office of the Inspector General released three reports last week identifying major concerns about care coordination, ticketing and medication management related to the launch of the EHR program.

In its detailed report on the coordination of care following the implementation of the new system of record, the department’s OIG justified shortcomings in the migration of patient information, which in some cases was transferred with errors. The watchdog also noted that electronic flags to identify patients at high risk of suicide and with behavioral problems were not activated in the new system.

VA’s OIG, in the second installment of its investigation, has highlighted concerns about the helpdesk ticketing system for the new system of record, previously raised by frontline workers. Issues identified by the watchdog included concerns that Cerner’s service desk support staff could not view and replicate reported issues, closed tickets before resolution, and failed to communicate ticket status to end users.

The EHR helpdesk ticketing system is operated by the VA Office of Electronic Healthcare Record Modernization and Cerner.

In its third series of reports, VA’s OIG found that the new system of record had occasionally halted future medication orders from providers, certain outpatient medication orders went unprocessed, and allowed licensed nurses to order prescriptions without the necessary physician approvals.

A Cerner spokesman referred a request for comment to the VA.

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