VA CIO nominee pledges to fix cybersecurity, EHR modernization

During the Wednesday confirmation hearing, James Gfrerer said he’d also be an advocate for maintaining VistA during the 10-year process to implement the new Cerner EHR.
By Jessica Davis
04:24 PM
Share
James Gfrerer testifying at the Senate Committee for Veterans Affairs

James Gfrerer testifying at the Senate Committee for Veterans Affairs. Credit: Senate.gov

Improving communication at the Department of Veterans Affairs as it transitions onto modern technology platforms would be a top priority for President Donald Trump’s nominee for the VA Chief Information Officer, James Gfrerer. He testified before the Senate VA committee on Wednesday.

Gfrerer also plans to put an end to the cybersecurity vulnerabilities that have put the VA on the Office of Inspector General’s high-risk list for the last three years. Gfrerer comes from the risk and security practice of Ernst and Young.

"I've read the OIG report on material weakness. It's a sustained pattern of unpreparedness,” Gfrerer told the committee. “As someone who has their personal health information in the VA system, and even if it was Lance Corporal Gfrerer, I would be pretty hot under the collar if there were continued material weaknesses and insecurity."

Not only that, but Gfrerer would advocated for maintaining the agency’s legacy VistA EHR -- which is “absolutely essential,” while it transitions to the new Cerner platform. Officials expect the implementation project will take 10 years, with the pilot sites going live in the Pacific Northwest by 2020.

The plan to roll out the same platform as the Department of Defense was a top concern for Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, who said “this is really going to make or break the VA going forward.” But Gfrerer directed Tester to the new Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization, already making progress.

OEHRM reports directly to the VA Deputy Secretary and has support from the Office of Technology. Both will ensure the network infrastructure and other technology resources are “up to par” to support the EHR implementation.

Gfrerer told the committee he’ll keep officials accountable to the projected milestones for the project, using a “scorecard” method to monitor the progress of the EHR project and other IT work.

“There’s a huge change management component so clinicians will have to go through a substantial, rigorous process to conform their workflows to the IT systems,” Gfrerer said.

Most recently, OEHRM Chief Health Informatics Officer Genevieve Morris stepped down from her leadership role, citing leadership taking the project in a different direction than originally plan. Surprisingly, the committee did not ask Gfrerer about Morris during the hearing.

Twitter: @JF_Davis_
Email the writer: jessica.davis@himssmedia.com