Veterans Affairs

VA is acquiring new scheduling IT, says CIO

Stephen Warren

Stephen Warren, Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs is in the market for a new scheduling system, with a request for proposals due out next week, agency CIO Stephen Warren said at a June 10 Senate hearing.

The VA is now seeking a commercial solution to work as a module inside the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture electronic health record. Meetings with industry are slated for next week, and a product is due to be in place by the close of fiscal 2015.

The plan has been in the works for at least 18 months, in the wake of critical inspector general and Government Accountability Office reports that documented scheduling problems at the VA long before the recent troubles at the Phoenix hospital, where it was alleged that schedulers kept two sets of appointment books in order to comply with department-wide goals about getting veterans into the system to receive care.

A preliminary internal audit of VA scheduling practices found that workarounds to the computer appointment system were used at 70 percent of facilities.

According to Warren, a suboptimal scheduling system is built into the VA's VistA electronic health record system. "When we talk about VistA, it is important to think about it in two parts," Warren said. The clinical component, "that portion which focuses and enforces and supports how we provide care, is one of the best out there," he said. However, the administrative side functions -- including scheduling – were "not supported at the level they needed to have been."

Warren said that in the midst of the reorganization of the IT department at Veterans Affairs, from a distributed system with regional CIOs to consolidated system under a single leader, the agency jettisoned scheduling projects running for 10 years. "They were not delivering and were not going to deliver," Warren said.

Part of that IT reorganization put the VA on a more agile footing. The department leads federal agencies in delivering IT capabilities within six months of start to finish, according to GAO. VA IT also pioneered the kind of data-driven TechStat review process that was eventually incorporated governmentwide. Warren said the VA has so far conducted 20 TechStat reviews of IT projects this year, with 37 total for 2013 and 68 in 2012.

Improvements to the existing scheduling system are being made as a new system is being planned, Warren said. The challenge is that the scheduling system allows for appointments to be made and changed, but there aren't clear indications about whether an appointment has been changed at the request of a physician, a patient or on some other basis. Auditors are trying to reconstruct those changes to provide a record of the extent to which schedulers at VA facilities were abusing the system.

Asked if the new system would be able provide a trail for investigators in the future, Warren said, "I think you can be assured, sir, that the audit and audit features in terms of how you differentiate is one of the areas of concern for us."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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Reader comments

Tue, Jun 17, 2014 2010 OIGF Report

Correction to prior post: VA has a PMAS Office (project mgmt accountability system) led by someone who failed with CoreFLS. AND FLITE/Strategic Asset Management. See Page 17 of this report (http://www.va.gov/oig/52/reports/2010/VAOIG-10-01374-237.pdf) for the names of those still drawing PAY and running PMAS. There is no accountability in VA OIT whatsoever. An entirely self-serving bureaucracy divorced from the mission and isolated from their customers. Perhaps this is why Roger Baker left after getting nowhere.

Mon, Jun 16, 2014

See this: http://fcw.com/articles/2013/05/01/veterans-affairs-trouble.aspx

Sat, Jun 14, 2014

Warren's conversation in these matters are further evidence that he's never worked in IT in a VA Hospital and didn't concern himself with education himself by listening to people who built the system when the VA hired him. Perhaps he simple doesn't want to know, but he's very wrong on many points he misspoke on.

Fri, Jun 13, 2014 Tired of Stephen

I don't understand how Stephen gets away with lying to Congress on a consistent basis. Your cover has departed the agency. Time for you to go as well. The gig is up.

Fri, Jun 13, 2014

Is the RFP for the Scheduling System for VA available for review? If so, where can one obtain a copy? or can you provide a link to the RFP?

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