Veterans Affairs

VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency. Congress, meanwhile, would like some clarity on the agency's dueling schedule solutions.

The Department of Veterans Affairs will go ahead with its proposed test of a homegrown scheduling technology to improve on antiquated computer tools that have been criticized as cumbersome, inaccurate and susceptible to outright fraud.

According to a VA source, the agency will go ahead with planned tests of the Vista Scheduling Enhancement, an internally developed Outlook-style interface that gives schedulers a dashboard view of appointments. The first iteration of VSE was piloted at 32 clinics across five test sites. Under the test, VSE 1.1 will be rolled out at primary care facilities nationwide between March and May of this year.

A decision on testing was due Feb. 10.

The move to go ahead with VSE comes as VA proceeds on several other fronts to improve its much-maligned scheduling system. Inadequate logs and controls for that system allowed some in the Phoenix VA Medical Center to keep two sets of books, which led to many applicants being denied visits in a timely fashion.

The department is testing a commercial system from the electronic health record software firm Epic and a subsidiary of Lockheed. That team won a five-year, $624 million contract in 2015 to retool VA scheduling. However implementation of that solution was put on hold while VA developers tried their own in-house approach. The commercial program, the Medical Appointment Scheduling System, is once again proceeding and is currently being tested in Boise, Idaho.

Additionally, two other scheduling efforts are at various stages of completion. Under the Faster Cares for Veterans Act of 2016, VA is required to procure a customer-focused commercial self-scheduling system. VA is also expanding its native mobile scheduling app, the Vista Veterans Access Request self-scheduling module.

There is widespread agreement that VA needs a new scheduling solution. At his confirmation hearing to lead the VA, Dr. David Shulkin, currently VA's undersecretary for health, said that schedulers are " using what I would call old blue DOS screens to schedule." He added, "I don't even know how they do their jobs."

The overlap of scheduling program has left congressional overseers a little dazzled. In a joint letter, Rep. David Roe (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) the chairman and ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, sought additional clarity from acting VA CIO Rob Thomas.

"[P] lease explain how these four programs will be managed so that modern scheduling technology can be quickly delivered without creating duplication, and without undermining [the Office of Information and Technology's] preference for existing commercial off-the-shelf solutions," they wrote.

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 roles 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

Wed, Mar 8, 2017

$624 million dollars for a Scheduling system seems ridiculous. It's not software to bring us to Mars, it's to make an appointment to see a medical practitioner.

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