Vital computer system has crashed more than 50 times since launching in Spokane, VA confirms

May 8 – WASHINGTON – An electronic health record system being tested at the VA Hospital in Spokane and other sites in the Interior Northwest has been partially or completely unusable at least 50 times since its launch in 2020 , confirmed the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The computer system, which healthcare workers rely on to track patient information and coordinate care, recorded a total of 42 “unplanned degradations” and eight “unplanned outages” between its launch in 2020 and on April 20, 2022, VA spokesperson Randal Noller said in an email response to questions from The Spokesman-Review. Two other outages occurred on April 25 and 26, VA officials told a congressional panel at the time, for a total of 52 incidents.

The system, which launched at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane in October 2020, is being developed under a $10 billion contract awarded to Cerner Corporation in 2018, without the bidding process which applies to most federal contracts of this size. The VA’s Office of Inspector General has estimated that the planned 10-year effort, which is overdue, will cost up to $21 billion and an additional $2 billion for each additional year it takes to complete. .

In the email, Noller pointed out that most of the incidents were not “large-scale outages,” like the one in early April that affected VA as well as the Department of Defense and Coast Guard, which use also the Cerner system. Many of the “service downgrades,” he said, only affected some of the users of Mann-Grandstaff and its affiliated clinics in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, Wenatchee and Libby, Montana.

After multiple delays caused by issues in the Interior Northwest that threatened patient safety and left healthcare workers exhausted and demoralized, VA launched the Cerner system at facilities in Walla Walla on March 26 and in Columbus, Ohio, April 30. The rest of the nation’s more than 1,200 VA facilities continue to use an older system, known as VistA, which remains popular among healthcare providers.

“No matter the type or size of the incident, VA and Cerner use an extensive incident management protocol to ensure users can continue to provide fast, safe and effective care,” Noller said in the e- mail.

When the system goes down, affected VA employees are forced to use “downtime procedures,” which involve recording all information with pen and paper and entering it into the system once complete. it is restored.

The department had acknowledged several outages over the past few months after being reported by The Spokesman-Review and other news outlets, but had not previously disclosed the total number of system outages. VA did not respond to a question about the total number of downtimes that occurred and did not immediately respond to follow-up questions.

In an exchange with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said he was frustrated by the six outages that occurred. since March 3. But when Murray asked the VA chief to commit that the system would not be brought to other sites in Washington until the issues were resolved, he pledged only to “make every decision in based on learning experience to date”.

At a House VA committee hearing on April 28, McDonough told Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., He would not allow VA to continue deploying the Cerner system “if I ever have a reason to think it creates a risk for our patients.”

In the same exchange with Rosendale, McDonough said he carefully read an April 24 spokesperson story about a veteran who was hospitalized with heart failure for five days in March after the Cerner system played a role in the mistakenly stopping life-saving medicine. A Spokesman-Review investigation in December found Mann-Grandstaff employees worried the system posed a danger to veterans.

In an April 26 hearing, Rep. Frank Mrvan of Indiana, Democratic chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing Cerner’s deployment, said the system should not be deployed in larger facilities. and more complex like the VA medical centers in Seattle or Portland. until the issues are resolved. At the same hearing, Don Pirraglia — who was until recently the top Veterans Health Administration official working on Cerner’s deployment — said he made the same recommendation, but McDonough announced no changes. to the deployment schedule.

The next Cerner system is scheduled to launch in Roseburg and White City, Oregon on June 11; Boise on June 25; Anchorage, Alaska, July 16; Seattle and other Puget Sound facilities on August 27; three sites in Michigan on October 8; and Portland on November 5.

Orion Donovan-Smith’s reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and members of the Spokane community. This story may be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact the editorial director of our journal.

Gordon K. Morehouse