VA head opts for no-bid approach to EHR upgrade

Rebecca Vesely

About Rebecca Vesely

Rebecca Vesely is AHCJ's topic leader on health information technology and a freelance writer. She has written about health IT since the late 1990s for a variety of publications.

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Last week’s announcement that the Department of Veterans Affairs would replace its homegrown electronic health record system VistA with a Cerner product came ahead of the expected July 1 deadline for a decision on the matter.

The move made waves in the health IT sector for several reasons. Most notably, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, M.D., chose to invoke a “public interest exception” in the Cerner pick, bypassing the usual competitive bidding process for government contracts.

Cerner already has a $4.3 billion contract to build an EHR for the Department of Defense (DoD), and Shulkin said the idea is using the same EHR vendor will improve care transitions and record sharing between the DoD and the VA, as patients move between the two health systems.

“VA’s adoption of the same EHR system as DoD will ultimately result in all patient data residing in one common system and enable seamless care between the departments without the manual and electronic exchange and reconciliation of data between two separate systems,” Shulkin said his prepared statement.

Heathcare IT News conducted a poll on the decision that suggested that few in health care were surprised by it. Some called the move “corrupt,” but others said they hoped it would spur better interoperability and secure sharing of patient records among providers.

The Kansas City Business Journal (Cerner is based in the city) noted that the deal is one of the largest health IT transactions ever.

A McClatchy News story ran in the Kansas City Star under the headline “No competition, no cost estimate as Kansas City firm picked for coveted VA contract.” Reporters Lindsay Wise and Diane Stafford quoted ethics and legal experts on the VA’s no-bid decision. It is worth a read.

For background on the VA’s colorful history of EHR adoption, see this updated AHCJ tip sheet by Andis Robeznieks.

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