Veterans Affairs officials highlight IT progress, but full integration is still years away

Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs said they are gradually updating IT systems that improve interoperability and scheduling, but admitted that full integration of these programs is still several years away. 

In a hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Jennifer Lee, M.D., deputy undersecretary for health policy and services said the VA is piloting a “state of the art” commercial scheduling system in Boise, Idaho, known as the Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS).

“It’s so far advanced from where we are right now and it will build in all kinds of functionality for our patients that we don’t have right now, including rules and the ability to see what services individual patients qualify for inside the system,” she said.

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But because the VA’s current scheduling system is so outdated, Lee noted that it will likely take “several years” before MASS is implemented across the system. In the meantime, the VA has approved the VistA Scheduling Enhancement (VSE) as an interim solution that will be rolled out across the system this summer. Lee also highlighted the rollout of the Joint Legacy Viewer, which currently has over 200,000 users and exchanges more than 1.5 million data points between the VA and the Department of Defense daily, and allows for additional interoperability with community partners that are participating in the health information exchange.

VA officials did not specifically address the agency’s transition to a commercial EHR system, although Secretary David Shulkin said last week that the VA needs to move away from internally developed systems and towards a commercially developed product. In a statement to Health Data Management, the VA said Shulkin will make that decision by July 1. 

RELATED: Shulkin confirms VA will transition to commercial EHR

President Donald Trump's newly released 2018 budget calls for a 6% increase to VA funding to improve access to care. 

But an official with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the VA’s Inspector General criticized the VA’s progress in several high-risk areas, including health IT. The VA has been on the GAO’s list of high-risk programs since 2015, in part because it has failed to address outdated IT systems.

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According to a testimony (PDF) from Debra Draper, director of the GAO’s Health Care Team, the VA has implemented fewer than half of the 13 IT recommendations issued by the watchdog agency since 2010.“The most immediate thing to do is have a viable action plan that provides a roadmap of what they need to do and how they are going to do it,” Draper said, speaking generally about the VA’s high-risk designation.