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Cerner chief: VA contract taught him about 'fake news' that may involve a competitor

A large sign denotes the Cerner Corp. Innovations campus at 8779 Hillcrest Rd. in Kansas City.
A large sign denotes the Cerner Corp. Innovations campus at 8779 Hillcrest Rd. in Kansas City.

Cerner's president Zane Burke suggested Friday that reports critical of its work for the U.S. Department of Defense amounted to "fake news" that may have involved "one of our competitors."

Burke addressed Cerner's shareholders meeting a day after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs signed a 10-year, $10 billion no-bid contract with the North Kansas City-based company.

Cerner gained the contract without going through a traditional bidding process. Veterans Affairs chose Cerner so that its health records system would be the same as that at the Department of Defense, which had chosen a system involving Cerner and other companies after an extensive bidding process.

The VA contract signing had been delayed by several factors including a Pentagon report that concluded the Cerner-based health records system being installed at the defense department was "neither operationally effective nor operationally suitable," according to a report by Politico.

"I have learned the term fake news, a little bit," Burke said in comments about the government contracts during the shareholders meeting.

He then defended the Department of Defense project.

"On one side, there’s been some concern about some of the delivery on the Department of Defense side. I’ll tell you that’s gone incredibly well overall. There were some known elements up front as we rolled out the first three sites. The plan always was to come back and do a remediation of those three sites, do an evaluation and make things better."

Burke then pointed a finger at a competitor but without naming who he believed might have been involved.

"If you had an ax to grind with us and wanted to perhaps keep us from getting to a Veterans contract, and you’re one of our competitors, you might want to use some information negatively. There was some negative information out there," Burke said.

He added that both the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs understood the value of Cerner's work, as evidenced by the signing of the VA contract on Thursday.

Burke was not available immediately after the shareholders meeting as he attended a board meeting.

Cerner is a leading provider of electronic health records to hospitals, clinics and other commercial operations. One of its chief competitors is Wisconsin-based Epic Systems. Allscripts and AlthenaHealth also provide electronic health records systems.

An Epic Systems spokeswoman declined to comment immediately.

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