Did VA’s Health Records Problems Cause the Deaths of Two Ohio Patients?

Lawmakers in the Republican House of Representatives want to know if the Department of Veterans Affairs’ embattled electronic medical record system is responsible for the recent deaths of two Ohio veterans and if the entire program needs to be scrapped.

In a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, senior House Veterans Affairs Committee member Mike Bost, R-Ill., and Ohio GOP Reps Mike Carey and Troy Balderson said department officials are providing more information on the deaths need to restore confidence the system of record, the VA leadership and the department as a whole.

“That [medical records project] has been plagued by security risks and technical issues alongside exorbitant costs,” the group wrote. “These two incidents were different combinations of system and human error. While mistakes undoubtedly happen in healthcare, they are [new system] clearly exacerbates and exacerbates the potential for human error.”

“It was irresponsible to expose our veterans to such a flawed and dangerous system and situation in Columbus [Ohio] and the other VA medical centers using it is unacceptable.”

VA officials did not respond to requests for information about the deaths, but referenced an October announcement that all planned deployments of the Oracle Cerner recording platform would be postponed to June 2023 “to address challenges with the system and ensure it is operating optimally.” works for veterans and for VA health workers.”

In the letter, Republican lawmakers said both deaths indicated serious problems with the system used at the VA Central Ohio Healthcare System.

In the first case, a veteran associated with the Columbus Medical Center who was prescribed an antibiotic after a hospital visit never received the drug because “the electronic medical record provided incorrect tracking information for the prescription.”

The veteran later died of medical complications.

Lawmakers said that in the second case, a veteran missed a regular medical exam, but that information was not properly transferred to the new system. As a result, “no contact was attempted to reschedule the appointment”.

The man showed up at the medical center a few months later with alcohol withdrawal symptoms and died a few days later.

Both cases point to serious system deficiencies, the legislator argued. They urge VA officials to “get to the bottom of these patient deaths in Columbus as soon as possible.”

The 10-year, $16 billion overhaul of records was spearheaded by President Donald Trump to bring veterans’ health records into line with military records. In the past, the two agencies used separate recording systems with programs in between to transfer data between them, creating information problems for patients and doctors.

But the rollout of the new software was associated with numerous setbacks and delays. Earlier this year, an inspector general report found that at least 148 veterans were harmed by errors and deficiencies in medical records after the system was implemented at initial Washington state locations last year.

In addition, the researchers found that the system failed to deliver more than 11,000 orders for specialty treatments, laboratory work, and other services without notifying healthcare providers that the orders had been lost.

In an interview with the Military Times last week, McDonough acknowledged that “the [records] Program and technology does not live up to the billing. Our vets deserve better.”

But he also said officials are not yet ready to abandon the massive record-breaking program.

“This will not be a decision that I come to through my emotions,” he said. “If it doesn’t work for vets, we won’t do it. But we’re also not going to throw it away just because we get tired.

“We’re going to stick with this thing to make it work because the idea is deeply in the national interest. But if it’s not feasible, we won’t just spin our wheels.”

VA officials have sent tens of thousands of letters to patients at medical facilities using the new system of records in recent weeks, letting them know they “may be affected by these system challenges” and to ensure they are making appointments and can receive medication and meet other medical needs.

Bost — who will chair the House Veterans Affairs Committee if Republicans win a majority in the House — said in the letter that he recently visited Columbus Medical Center and heard from staff that the new system “undermined health care, safety, operations and morale.”

Oracle Cerner officials have said they are making improvements to the system and are working closely with VA officials on a new deployment plan to get the project back on track. The system was due to be installed in all VA medical facilities by the end of 2028, but that timeline has been called into question after the numerous delays.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has been covering Washington, DC, since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veteran politics. His work has received numerous awards including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award and the VFW News Media Award.