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COVID Surges Affect VA EHR Schedule

The agency will shift the timeline for future rollout sites.
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Graphic illustration describing EHR or electronic health record concept. Doctor using digital smart device to read patients data online
Photo Credit: Rudzhan Nagiev/iStock

Recent surges in COVID-19 cases amid new variants has led to delayed implementation of the new electronic health record at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ next rollout site in Columbus, Ohio.

“We have decided to move the scheduled appointment of Columbus from March 5 to April 30,” Senior Advisor at the VA Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Melissa Bryant told reporters. “We’re in a period of reassessment given the COVID surge with the Omicron variant.”

The program had undergone a restructure last year and also experienced similar delays earlier in the pandemic due to concerns that promoted social distancing and increased remote work. Plus, recent surges in the Columbus area have resulted in increased amount of staff out sick.

“Right now we have a significant number of the workforce at the Columbus facility in particular — approximately 209 as of yesterday — who are unable to work. There is a 34.9% positivity rate for COVID across this 15-county service area, and Franklin County in particular is experiencing 153% increase in COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days,” Bryant said.

These complications also delayed the necessary in-person training and familiarization necessary for a smooth EHR transition.

“We want it to ensure that we also have the proper training,” Bryant said.

In a subsequent statement to the press, VA leadership expressed an intent to prioritize veterans health care during a particularly taxing COVID-19 surge, allocating resources to ensure patients receive emergency treatment.

“As we see the pandemic surge in the Columbus community, we need to support the medical professionals while they focus their attention on meeting the health care needs of their patients. EHR deployment activities must be weighed against community health and can be resumed when it is appropriate to do so,” said Dr. Terry Adirim, program executive director of the VA Electronic Health Record Modernization Integration Office.

In addressing the Columbus delay’s impact on the VA’s broader EHR rollout, agency leadership is reevaluating the deployment list with the intent of staying as close to the previously released schedule as possible.

“What I can share at this point is that we’re going to reevaluate the entirety of the deployment list. The goal is to stay as close to on-target as what we released,” Bryant said.

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