Gibson: VA pursuing schedule fix on multiple tracks

The VA hopes to have a quick patch for scheduling software in place as it pursues a new system.

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Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson told a Senate committee that he expects a new "state of the art" commercial scheduling system to be in place in two years. In the meantime, the department is trying to solve the scheduling problem by attacking it on four fronts.

There are 11 known defects in the scheduling system,  part of the VistA health record system, and those "are being patched as we speak," Gibson told members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on July 16. In addition, the VA is developing four new interfaces to make it easier for schedulers to access the system, and to give veterans the ability to access their own appointments data through the VA.

The VA put out a contract July 11 for "major enhancements" to the existing scheduling system, Gibson said, that will "remedy many of the most egregious problems that we have right now that make it hard to deal with." Finally, the VA is continuing with longstanding plans to find a commercial replacement for the home grown scheduling tool that can be integrated into the VistA architecture.

Gibson also put forth a request for $17.6 billion in new funding through 2017 to be used on the construction of new VA facilities, the hiring of 10,000 new clinical staffers -- including 1,500 doctors -- and to increase funding for IT projects.

The request for more funding was met with some grumbling from Republicans, who said that more private-sector health care industry involvement would help more than money. "I think what you honestly need is competition," said Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns.

Bob McDonald, the former Procter & Gamble CEO who is President Barack Obama's choice to lead the VA, will have his nomination hearing in front of the committee July 22.

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