VA is implementing a new electronic health record (EHR) system across its facilities nationwide over the course of several years. VA was one of the country’s first health care systems to implement an EHR and continues to be a leader in this area. Below are answers to frequently asked questions about the initiative and the new system.
What is an electronic health record?
An EHR is a technology used by health care providers to store and track patient data. It provides a digital version of a patient’s health record and helps facilitate administrative activities such as patient appointment scheduling and billing.
What is the Electronic Health Record Modernization program?
VA’s Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) program is an effort to replace the department’s current EHR, the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), with a new commercial EHR solution. VA selected Cerner Corp. as its EHR vendor. The Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) also chose Cerner as the vendor for their EHR modernization efforts. Together, the VA, DOD and USCG EHRM programs will unite all three organizations on a single, common EHR system, creating a health record that provides seamless care for service members and Veterans. The new EHR system will also improve the scheduling experience at VA medical facilities through a new patient-appointment tool, the Centralized Scheduling Solution (CSS).
Why is VA transitioning to a new EHR system?
Implementing a new EHR at VA is a Veteran-centric effort that will standardize health care delivery and administration across the department. It will improve patient safety and health outcomes by giving providers easy access to a Veteran’s full medical history and enhance health information sharing among VA, DOD, USCG and participating community care partners. The new system will also make health care delivery more efficient and provide VA with a cutting-edge EHR platform it can use to continue driving innovation.
What does EHRM mean for Veterans?
Modernizing VA’s EHR will improve Veteran care by helping VA, DOD, USCG and participating community care providers share patient data. The new system will also help providers make better decisions about Veteran care, informed by data analytics that provide a broader view of a Veteran’s medical history and service record. As part of the new EHR, Veterans will use the My VA Health patient portal to schedule appointments, request medication refills and message their providers. Veterans who receive care at facilities that have implemented the new EHR system can access their My VA Health patient portal directly at patientportal.myhealth.va.gov (VA recommends using the Firefox, Edge or Chrome web browsers).
Why is the ability to share a Veteran’s health record important?
A shared system means that the health information a doctor, pharmacy or lab enters into a Veteran’s health record at one facility can be accessed by providers and staff at other facilities when they need it. This data sharing also eliminates the need to manually transfer records when active-duty service members transition to Veteran status.
As part of this effort, VA and DOD collaborated with the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization office to launch a modernized health data sharing capability. The joint health information exchange (HIE) allows providers in both departments to quickly and securely access EHR data for their patients who have visited a participating community partner or health system. And participating community providers will now have a single point of entry to request and access DOD, USCG and VA electronic health records for use in patient care.
What are the benefits of EHRM?
EHRM will help VA increase quality of care, improve the Veteran experience, manage costs, improve efficiency, ensure and improve patient safety and provide a platform for shared innovation. VA’s new EHR will:
- Reduce waste by eliminating duplicate orders.
- Increase safety using embedded intelligence rules alerting clinicians to issues such as potential drug or drug-allergy interactions.
- Increase taxpayer value and reduce VA operating costs by moving from 130 EHR systems to a single, common platform leveraging commercial investment — allowing VA to invest more resources into care and services.
- Provide Veterans with all medical history and data in a single location for a lifetime record.
- Save lives by using advanced analytics and algorithms with early identification of health risks.
- Foster innovation by working together on suicide prevention and post-traumatic stress disorder algorithms.
- Reduce opioid abuse by embedding technology for VA clinicians connected to state prescription-drug monitoring programs
What precautions are being taken to keep Veteran data secure as the new EHR is implemented nationwide?
VA is committed to guarding the privacy and security of Veteran information, and the EHR system is no exception. VA’s online patient portals are secure. VA follows strict security policies and practices to protect personal health information. Only Veterans and their VA health care team will have access to this information. VA complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the Privacy Act of 1974. VA and Cerner used state-of-the-art and federally compliant safety measures to migrate Veteran data into the new EHR system, and VA personnel maintained constant supervision of the data throughout. Protecting Veteran health information is a top priority for VA, and Cerner and VA have established a secure transfer process between VistA and the Cerner data center that is compliant with national cybersecurity standards. The joint health information exchange (HIE) platform, which connects VA and DOD with participating community health care partners, also honors patient consent, and health records of patients who opt out of sharing their records will not be included in the joint HIE.
When will VA facilities receive the new EHR system?
VA expects to roll out the new EHR to all of its facilities nationwide over the course of several years. Deployment will take place in “waves” consisting of multiple VA facilities within a Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN). During deployment, each facility will hold workshops to configure the EHR system to its needs and undergo infrastructure upgrades and system testing. VA will remain flexible and agile in its strategy while continuing to consider factors that might require the department to adjust its schedule. To learn more, see the EHRM Deployment Schedule.
How will VA ensure the EHR meets the needs of Veterans and VA staff?
VA assembled groups called national councils, made up of subject matter experts and front-line workers from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and DOD, other VA staff, Cerner representatives and outside consultants, to determine standard workflows and best practices for the new solution. Each national council represents a functional area of the new EHR system, such as acute care delivery and dentistry. Together, VA clinicians and facility staff make up 60 percent of the more than 1,200 subject matter experts contributing to the national councils.
How is the VA EHRM Integration Office ensuring VA facilities are prepared for the new EHR?
The VA EHRM Integration Office’s change management approach will establish awareness, knowledge and ability among VA facility leaders and staff to ensure successful adoption of the EHR. The VA EHRM Integration Office has developed a comprehensive training plan that blends computer-based, instructor-led and self-paced learning for all VHA employees who will use the EHR as part of their day-to-day job functions.
To help encourage adoption of the new system, the VA EHRM Integration Office established Change Leadership Teams at each Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) and each VA facility receiving the EHR. These teams are made up of:
- An executive sponsor, who provides overall strategic direction and promotes transformation success.
- A change lead, who executes strategies to maximize adoption and meet EHRM objectives.
- A change coordinator, who manages successful execution of change management plans and supports stakeholder communication.
- A training coordinator, who coordinates end-user training activities at their site.
- A deployment coordinator, who coordinates deployment activities at their site.
When will EHRM begin impacting Veterans?
The department began implementing its new EHR at select facilities in the Pacific Northwest and Las Vegas in October 2020. VA plans to complete EHR implementation nationwide over the course of several years. During this transition, VA is maintaining and supporting its legacy EHR systems and will continue to do so until every VA medical facility has the new EHR. This ensures VA providers and staff can access current patient records without interruption to the delivery of quality care.
How does EHRM impact VA staff and providers?
EHRM will transition VA from more than 130 different versions of VistA to one common health record shared between VA, DOD, USCG and participating community care providers. The new EHR system will allow providers to see a Veteran’s full medical history in one location without the need to access multiple platforms or track down patient information from other providers. VA, DOD and USCG will store data from different doctors, pharmacies and labs in the same format, making it quickly and easily accessible by all providers.
How did VA select Cerner as its new EHR technology vendor?
VA chose Cerner on the rationale provided in the EHR Determination and Findings document, signed June 1, 2017. As outlined in the Determination and Findings, the EHRM program will leverage an existing commercial solution to achieve interoperability across VA, DOD, USCG and participating community care providers. Adopting the same EHR system as DOD and USCG (i.e., Cerner) is a Veteran-centric approach that will support service members as they transition from military service to Veteran status and drive better clinical outcomes.
How will health care providers outside of VA view Veteran records?
VA shares data using the joint health information exchange (HIE), a new capability for bidirectional sharing of health records with community partners. As of May 2021, the joint HIE is connected to nearly 70% of the nation’s community providers. Participating community providers can connect to the joint HIE through direct connections with their approved EHR systems through the eHealth Exchange or through CommonWell Health Alliance networks.
For more information regarding elevated care, consent and privacy information, visit the Veterans Health Information Exchange (VHIE). For more information regarding community providers that are partnered with VA, DOD and USCG to share EHR data, review the list of VHIE Participating Partners.
What has VA done to help Veterans transition to the new patient portal?
In advance of the new EHR going live at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Spokane, Washington, the department’s first EHR deployment, VA actively communicated to Veterans about the change across multiple formats, including emails, direct mail, fact sheets and the Mann-Grandstaff website. In addition, Mann-Grandstaff VAMC hosted a local Veteran town hall on Oct. 14, 2020, to provide a demo of scheduling, messaging and prescription management functions in the new My VA Health patient portal and to introduce the My VA Health User Guide. There were also local Veteran town halls on Oct. 7 and 21, which included updates about My VA Health and what Veterans needed to know and do to prepare. We understand how important it is to communicate with Veterans and continue to look for additional avenues to share EHR updates as additional facilities go live with the new system.
How can Veterans prepare for the new EHR system?
Veterans can prepare for the launch of the new EHR at their local VA facility by signing up for a free Premium My HealtheVet account. Learn more about upgrading an existing basic or advanced account (VA recommends using the Firefox, Edge or Chrome web browsers). Veterans can also learn more about EHRM by reading the EHRM Overview fact sheet.
Veterans should also make sure their contact information and addresses are up to date in their VA profile at VA.gov before the new My VA Health patient portal is launched at their facility. To make updates, Veterans can log in to their VA Profile or through VA.gov using their Premium DS Logon account, Premium My HealtheVet account or a verified ID.me account. Veterans can contact their facility My HealtheVet coordinator with any questions or if they need additional assistance.
How can Veterans access the new My VA Health patient portal?
Veterans who receive care at facilities that have implemented the new EHR system can access their My VA Health patient portal directly (VA recommends using the Firefox, Edge or Chrome web browsers). Veterans may also access My VA Health through VA.gov or through My HealtheVet.
Veterans can use the same login for My VA Health as they do for My HealtheVet and VA.gov but must have a Premium My HealtheVet account, Premium DS Logon Account or an ID.me account. If a Veteran has a basic or advanced My HealtheVet account, a step-by-step guide to upgrading their account to Premium is available.
If a Veteran has any issues using My VA Health to achieve their health care needs, they should call the My VA Health Support Line at 888-444-6982. Customer service representatives are standing by and ready to assist Veterans.
Will Veterans have to use two portals?
Once a VA facility begins using the new EHR and the My VA Health portal, Veterans will continue to use their current credentials to sign in through VA.gov, as they do today, and the system will take them to My VA Health. Once they log in, they will also have the ability to go to the My HealtheVet portal. This will ensure Veterans who have received care at facilities with the new EHR system and at facilities still using the legacy VistA system will have access to all of their records.
For example, after the new EHR system has gone live at a VA health facility, Veterans will continue to use My HealtheVet to:
- Manage VA prescription refills and renewals at facilities that have not yet transitioned to the new EHR
- Access past secure messages and VA health records from before the transition
- Schedule appointments at facilities that have not yet transitioned to the new EHR
What has VA accomplished since the EHRM Integration Office, formerly known as the Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization, was established in June 2018?
VA launched its new EHR in October 2020 at a set of initial operating capability sites in the Pacific Northwest and Las Vegas and is currently working toward implementation at additional sites. Before the historic deployment at these first facilities, VA held eight national workshops to collaborate with Cerner on the new EHR’s design. The department also migrated 23.9 million Veteran health records to a new data center shared with DOD, created the VA Innovative Technology Advancement Lab (VITAL) to educate VA staff on the new EHR’s data analytics capabilities, helped launch the joint HIE in April 2020 to connect with community care providers and implemented CSS — a key component of the EHR — at select facilities in Ohio in August 2020.