NewsBytes February 16, 2024
In this issue:
Hearing on Veterans Prescribed Wrong Medications
Reps Ask for Big Boost in Junior Enlisted Pay
HVAC Subcommittee Hearing on Veterans Prescribed Wrong Medications
At a House Veterans Affairs Committee Technology Modernization Subcommittee hearing, it was disclosed that 250,000 veterans may be at risk of being prescribed medicine they are allergic to or that would interact poorly with their existing medications because of issues with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) new electronic health records system. A VA official testifying at the hearing emphasized that the VA has not found any instances of patients being harmed by drug interactions specifically caused by the data issues.
The flawed medication records are the most recent concerns with the implementation of the Oracle Cerner Millennium system, which has been concerning enough that the VA delayed adapting it at any more sites while it works to fix the network.
The problem is the way the Oracle system inputs data into a medical records database known as the Health Data Repository that stores information about patients' medications and allergies. When patients are prescribed new medications, a provider will check against the information in the database to ensure there are no allergies or drug interactions.
But because of an error in the way the Oracle system codes data sent to the database, incorrect information appears when the database is checked using Vista, the old electronic health records system.
That means if a veteran visits one of the five medical centers that use the Oracle system, their medication history could be wrong if they later seek care at a facility that still uses the Vista system. About 250,000 veterans were affected by the issue as of September, according to data provided by the Veterans Health Administration.
The inspector general's office has not "seen evidence that VA has sufficiently notified legacy EHR [electronic health record] providers about this issue and the mitigations to safely care for these new EHR site patients.”
Lawmakers in both parties have grown increasingly frustrated with the Oracle system, a $10 billion program that has been deployed in just five sites in the Pacific Northwest and Ohio, as reports of patient safety issues resulting from system glitches have mounted.
Amid pressure from lawmakers to pump the brakes on the electronic health records modernization program, the VA announced in April 2023 it was holding off on implementing the new system at any more sites while officials work on fixes.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result," Rep. Matt Rosendale, (Mont.), the subcommittee chairman, said at the hearing. "I have come to believe that continuing this effort -- to transform the Oracle Cerner pharmacy software into something completely different -- is insanity."
"While legacy site leaders were told to have providers perform manual medication safety checks to replace the automated checks for new EHR patients, these manual safety checks are complex and rely on the vigilance of pharmacists and frontline staff," he added.
Members can view the hearing at: https://veterans.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=6370
Reps Ask for Big Boost in Junior Enlisted Pay
At a House Armed Services Quality of Life Panel hearing, panel members had an opportunity to discuss Quality of Life issues. The hearing focused on Rep. John Garcia's (Calif.) proposed pay increase that was initially included in the FRA-supported House Appropriations Defense FY 2024 spending bill (H. R. 4365) for the Department of Defense last year. The provision included a massive rewrite of the military’s pay tables. This measure would have provided at least a 5.2 percent increase for all active duty and a pay increase of more than 30 percent for some junior enlisted. The provision would have guaranteed that even the lowest-ranking service members would make at least $31,000 annually in base pay (roughly $15 an hour). Troops will still receive other financial compensation in the form of housing stipends, free health care coverage, and food stipends. The proposal addressed the concern that thousands of military families are living at or below the federal poverty line, struggling to keep up with rising inflation costs. These pay improvements were later dropped from the bill. However, Rep. Garcia pledged to resubmit the pay increase proposal again this year.
Members can view this hearing at: https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings/quality-life-panel-member-day