Draft watchdog report shows flaws in VA’s Cerner EHR rollout harmed at least 148 veterans

A preliminary copy of the report was obtained by the Spokesman-Review newspaper.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough testifies during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the fiscal year 2022 budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs on Capitol Hill June 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A draft report by an agency watchdog has found that at least 148 veterans were harmed during the Department of Veterans Affairs’ rollout of its electronic health record system at a health center in Spokane, Washington.

The preliminary document from the VA’s Office of Inspector General found that the Cerner-developed platform has failed to deliver more than 11,000 orders for specialty care, lab work and other services, and claims also that the technology provider knew about a flaw but failed to fix it or inform the VA before the system was launched in October 2020.

Details of the report were obtained by the Spokesman-Review newspaper, based out of Spokane.

Over the weekend, VA officials also confirmed to Military Times that the agency would delay deployment of the new medical records system to additional sites until 2023 to ensure “adequate reliability.”


The document shows that a VA patient safety team briefed the department’s deputy secretary in October 2021 about harm and ongoing risks posed by the system, despite VA Secretary Denis McDonough early this year saying he was not aware of any harm caused by the system and that he would halt its rollout if safety experts determined it increased risk to veterans.

Notably, the report outlines a case of major harm in which a veterans at risk for suicide did not receive treatment because records disappeared in the computer system, according to the Spokesman-Review.

Details included within the final version of the report may still change, but it raises further questions over the troubled rollout of the EHR and how the Department of Veterans Affairs measures and defines harm caused to patients as a result of technical outages.

News of both the draft report and the decision to delay further implementation of the system come shortly after cloud giant Oracle completed its $28.3 billion acquisition of Cerner. At a public briefing earlier this month, Oracle President and Chief Technology Officer Larry Ellison said the company would work to modernize Cerner’s Millennium platform, which forms the backbone of VA’s electronic health record modernization program.

Commenting on the draft report, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said: “I plan to carefully review the official VA OIG’s report once it is released, but the reporting we’ve seen reinforces many of the concerns I have repeatedly raised with VA and Cerner about patient safety. The consistent and recurring failures of the EHR System have been completely unacceptable—we’re talking about real safety hazards and life-threatening risk to patients. 


“While I am glad to have convinced VA to finally delay its rollout of what is clearly an inexcusably broken system in Washington state, I am still very focused on holding VA and Cerner accountable in getting this right for our veterans and the dedicated VA staff in Spokane and Walla Walla,” Murray said 

In a statement to FedScoop, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said she is “outraged by the reports of veterans being harmed by the Cerner electronic health record system.”

She added: “For more than a year, Cerner and VA leadership have avoided accountability, withheld key findings and information, and put the lives of our nation’s heroes at risk. Their complete lack of transparency has led to a devastating breakdown in trust between veterans and the VA.

Cerner was contacted for comment.

John Hewitt Jones

Written by John Hewitt Jones

John is the managing editor of FedScoop, and was previously a reporter at Institutional Investor in New York City. He has a master’s degree in social policy from the London School of Economics and his writing has appeared in The Scotsman and The Sunday Times of London newspapers.

Latest Podcasts