Health

System outage takes Cerner EHR offline at VA hospitals

The Department of Veterans Affairs took its new Cerner electronic health record system offline this week following an IT system outage.  

According to VA representatives, the issue may have affected the records of more than 200 veterans.  

“There are no known patient safety issues because of this outage,” said representatives in a statement to Healthcare IT News.  

WHY IT MATTERS  

VA representatives told Healthcare IT News that the agency moved to take the EHR system installed at select sites in Spokane, Washington, and Columbus, Ohio areas offline at about 1:30 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday.  

According to reporting from The Spokesman-Review‘s Orion Donovan-Smith, Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center Director Robert Fischer told employees via email on Thursday to stop using the EHR system and to “assume all electronic patient data is corrupt/inaccurate.”  

As Donovan-Smith reported, Fischer asked staff to use “downtime procedures,” essentially reverting to pen-and-paper until the system was back online.  

An email to staff obtained by Donovan-Smith included Fischer telling employees they should “provide only those healthcare services you are comfortable providing assuming all electronic sources of data are unreliable.”   

“It is understood healthcare delivery, until these problems are rectified, will be very limited,” read Fischer’s email, according to Donovan-Smith. “Empathy and an apologetic approach to patients will be very important.”  

KXLY’s Melissa Luck reported that one patient found information belonging to another veteran when she logged on to her patient portal. 

“VA is contacting all 205 Veterans whose patient records may have been affected by this issue and is providing support and resources to ensure that they continue to get the care they need,” said spokespeople.  

VA representatives said the EHR system has been back online since about 10 a.m. Eastern time Friday morning.   

“Veteran patients in the Spokane, Washington, and Columbus, Ohio, area can again expect uninterrupted, high-quality care,” they said.  

“Cerner remains steadfast in its support of VA efforts to provide timely, high-quality care to Veterans through a modern, interoperable electronic health record,” said Brian Sandager, general manager of Cerner Government Services, in a statement.  

“We are working hand-in-hand with our VA partner to address any and all concerns,” Sandager said.  

THE LARGER TREND  

The incident is the latest in a series of pitfalls that have beset the EHR modernization effort at the VA.  

And despite plans for a retooled future and a freshly minted chief information officer in Kurt DelBene, the initiative has continued to face new hurdles in 2022.   

In January, VA announced that it was delaying its go-live date at a facility in Columbus, Ohio, from March 5 to April 30.  

And in February, a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the agency did not ensure the quality of data migrated to its new EHR before the initial deployment at Mann-Grandstaff.  

ON THE RECORD  

“Recognizing that system outages, though rare, can occur at facilities across the country, VA has worked with its vendor and established standard procedures for staff to follow that limit the impact on productivity and patient care,” said VA representatives in a statement to Healthcare IT News about the outage news this week.  

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.



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