Willemssen testimony on Dept. of Veteran Affairs

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Statement of Joel C. Willemssen

Director, Civil Agencies Information Systems

Accounting and Information Management Division

General Accounting Office

Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Hearing IV on the Department of Veterans Affairs Year 2000 (Y2K) Readiness

Thursday, April 15, 1999, 9:30 a.m., 334 Cannon

-- regular (zzz@z.z), April 21, 1999



As of March 31, 1999, neither VBA nor VHA had completed systems acceptance testingwhich requires that each system be tested, including full forward-date testing, on a compliant platformfor all their mission-critical systems...

Despite their importance, VHA has not yet completed its assessment of facility systems. As of February 28, 1999, VHA medical facilities reported that they had assessed 55 percent of their facility systems. According to VHAs Director of Safety and Technical Programs, the remaining 45 percent have not been fully assessed primarily because (1) facility systems tend to be a combination of unique elements that have to be separately assessed for compliancea time-consuming process, and (2) VHA is still awaiting compliance status information from facility system manufacturers...


Another critical component to VAs ability to deliver health care at the turn of the century is ensuring that the automated systems supporting VHAs medical facility pharmacies and its consolidated mail outpatient pharmacies (CMOPs) are Y2K compliant. VHA reported that in 1998 it filled about 72 million prescriptions for 3.4 million veterans, at an estimated cost of about $2 billion. About half of the prescriptions were filled by the over 200 pharmacies located in VAs medical centers, clinics, and nursing homes. These pharmacies rely on the pharmaceutical applications in VISTA for (1) drug distribution and inventory management, (2) dispensing of drugs to inpatients and outpatients, (3) patient medication information, and (4) an electronic connection between the pharmacies and the CMOPs. Y2K failures in these applications could impair the pharmacies ability to fill prescriptions.

The remaining 50 percent of VHAs prescriptions are filled by 7 CMOPs, geographically located throughout the United States. These facilities are supported by automated systems provided by one of two contractorsSI/Baker, Inc. and Siemens ElectroCom. For example, the CMOP electronically receives a prescription for a veteran through the medical center. The prescription is downloaded to highly automated dispensing equipment to be filled. The filled prescription is then validated by a pharmacist who compares the medication against a computerized image of the prescribed medication. Afterward, the prescription is packaged and an automatically-generated mailing label is applied for delivery to the veteran. Lastly, the medical center is electronically notified that the prescription has been filled. Because of the reliance on automation, the CMOPs ability to fill prescriptions could be delayed or interrupted if a Y2K failure occurred.

VHA has determined that the automated systems supporting its CMOPs are not Y2K compliant...

In summary, VBA and VHA continue to make progress in preparing their mission-critical systems for the year 2000. However, key actions remain to be taken in the areas of mission-critical systems testing, VHA facility systems compliance, and CMOP systems compliance. We also reiterate the need for VHA and FDA to take prudent steps to ensure that the test results of critical care/life support biomedical equipment are obtained and reviewed. Lastly, VHA needs information on the Y2K readiness of specific pharmaceutical and medical-surgical manufacturers. Until this information is obtained and publicized, VHA medical facilities and veterans will remain in doubt as to whether an adequate supply of pharmaceutical and biological products will be available. FDA and the pharmaceutical and biological trade associations can play key roles in helping VHA obtain this information and publicize the results in a single data clearinghouse.

-- regular (zzz@z.z), April 21, 1999.

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