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Electronic health records

Report spots problems in VA’s health IT plans

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ HealtheVet program, which aims to consolidate the department’s electronic health records system, likely will fail unless significant changes are made, according to a report by Carnegie Mellon University.

“Current plans are not realistic given the complexity and magnitude of [HealtheVet] and VA’s ability” to carry them out, according to the report.

According to the report, the HealtheVet program does not have a “clear vision,” and officials lack adequate knowledge about the required large-scale system integration or proposed technology products and standards.

The report also found that the project is driven by deadlines rather than results; the VA has not properly assessed risks and alternatives; managers at headquarters do not listen to experts; and the project-management office lacks the necessary staff, authority, responsibility and operational procedures.

The report recommends that the VA develop a better understanding of how people use its current system and a clearer vision of how the system will work.

The VA also should consider how the entire system would be affected if the department modified certain features, according to the report.

The HealthVet program would be an Internet-based program written in common computer languages. It would allow veterans to access their records online, schedule appointments and refill prescriptions. The VA planned to develop and install the system over the next five years.

The department expects development costs to be between US$1 billion and $2 billion, and total maintenance and development costs over 10 years are projected at US$3.5 billion.

U.S. President Bush, in his fiscal year 2006 budget, allocated $311 million to help develop the program.

Rep C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) after reviewing the report said the House Appropriations Committee will launch an investigation, and the funding would receive “extra scrutiny.” Carnegie Mellon conducted the study between November 2004 and January 2005 and interviewed more than 100 VA employees.