Cerner Corp VA Computer System Caused Harm to 148 Veterans

Faye Higbee

The Cerner Corp was paid $10 Billion for a new computer system for the Spokane, Washington VA Hospital. But a “bug” in the system caused at least 148 veterans to have serious problems, and although they knew about the flaw, they failed to fix it or tell anyone before it was installed in October 2020. The system has since been launched in several states. (Stripes)

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) stated that the Cerner system lost 11,000 orders (referrals or follow-ups) from providers for the care of veterans that resulted in delayed or missed care. Things like medications that were prescribed, or referrals to other doctors, all were dropped into an “unknown queue” and lost.

The case identified as major harm occurred after a homeless veteran in his 60s, who had been identified as at risk for suicide, saw a psychiatrist at Mann-Grandstaff in December 2020. After prescribing medication to treat the veteran’s depression, the doctor ordered a follow-up appointment one month later, but the order disappeared in the computer system and the appointment was not scheduled.

Weeks after the follow-up appointment was supposed to occur, according to the report, the patient called the Veterans Crisis Line saying he had a razor and planned to kill himself. First responders reached the man in time to take him to a local, non-VA hospital’s mental health unit, where he was hospitalized.

Spokesman Review

Even though Secretary McDonough said he didn’t know of any harm to veterans from the rollout of the system, he said he would delay the rollout if anything was found. The OIG found plenty- they said at least 148 veterans were harmed from the system’s flaws. The VA has delayed the rollout of the rest of the system for larger VA centers until 2023.

If smaller VA healthcare centers had 11,000 orders dropped into an “unknown queue,” what would it be like for large metropolitan VAs? The Mann-Grandstaff employees worked for months to re-enter the data, but by May 16, at least 200 orders were still in space somewhere within the system. It was the VA that identified the problem, and Cerner failed to keep the system up and running. The OIG identified at least 50 times where the system was off line and unusable.

Mann-Grandstaff and its satellite facilities in surrounding states have a proximity to Fairchild AFB, which is why it was chosen as the first rollout location. The system was supposed to improve communication. Instead it has risked the lives of veterans. The new owner of the system, Oracle, says they will make it work perfectly. Let’s hope so.


Featured screenshot of the Mann-Grandstaff VA via The Inlander

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