Guest column submitted by the Idaho Congressional Delegation: Senator Mike Crapo, Senator Jim Risch, Representative Mike Simpson and Representative Russ Fulcher

We owe it to Idaho veterans to ensure they get proper access to the services they deserve.  These include ensuring systems designed to streamline veterans services do not prevent them from getting the medicines and other resources they need.

In March, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report detailing the coordination deficiencies following the Electronic Health Record (EHR) rollout at the Mann-Grandstaff U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center (MC), in Spokane, Washington, where some north Idaho veterans access care.  The deficiencies included providers not being alerted when patients were flagged as high risk for suicide, limited access to suicide prevention and assessment tools, EHR-caused delays in scheduling primary care appointments and lab orders “disappearing” before reaching the facility laboratory.  Despite knowledge of these problems, the VA continued to rollout the new EHR system at other VAMCs, including a proposed June 25, 2022, rollout at the Boise VAMC.

Since the March OIG report, we have also read with dismay a news report of a veteran being hospitalized with heart failure in March after the EHR system contributed to a vital medication not being renewed.

In April, we raised concerns detailed in the March OIG report and a prior July 2021 OIG report finding insufficient training for the new EHR system in a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough.  Alarmingly, the July 2021 OIG report states after more than two months of the EHR use at the Mann-Grandstaff VAMC, 95 percent of VAMC staff reported they were unable to use at least one of the four core functions of the new health records system.  We asked Secretary McDonough a series of questions about the EHR rollout that include: 

  • Why the VA has continued with the rollout of the system despite unresolved issues;
  • Whether the VA has considered delaying implementation of the system at the Boise VAMC until the issues are addressed;
  • What training the VA will provide to ensure adequate understanding of the new system;
  • What support will be in place to ensure the Boise VAMC continues to have the necessary resources to provide timely care to veterans;
  • What steps have been taken to ensure veterans care is not further impacted by the system rollout; and more.

Medicine dosing and navigating federal programs can be complicated for aging veterans and their families.  Innovations that help ease access to quality care are great when they can deliver.  However, when deficiencies surface, such as those with the EHR system, they must be addressed quickly.  As we expressed in the letter, our country has committed to providing quality care and support for our nation’s veterans.  While it is our expectation that VA EHR modernization ultimately improves veterans’ access to care, the rollout of the EHR system has thus far fallen short—resulting in confusion, frustration and alarming situations for many veterans and their medical providers.  We will continue to press for timely resolution of these issues on behalf of Idaho veterans and their families.