VA to nationally scale scheduling technology systems next month

Department of Veterans Affairs CIO LaVerne Council discussed the agency's scheduling plight during a House Oversight & Government Reform committee hearing Wednesday, saying that in April the VA plans to roll out nationally two systems--the Veteran Appointment Request App (VAR) and the VistA Scheduling Enhancement (VSE).

The agency has been working on a more broad update effort known as the Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS), for which Systems Made Simple and Epic won a $624 million contract last August, but Council said that if VAR and VSE are able to scale nationally, the VA will stick with those options over the MASS effort. She noted that because the MASS contract was an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract, the VA's intention was not to spend the full amount allotted; rather, she said, the contract will be available in case VAR and VSE don't work.

Earlier this week, three Phoenix VA Healthcare System executives were given notices of proposed removal over the agency's wait-time scandal--Associate Director Lance Robinson; Darren Deering, M.D., the hospital's chief of staff; and Brad Curry, chief of health administration services. They are still collecting VA paychecks. 

Council also continued to discuss the possibility of replacing the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), the agency's homegrown electronic health record system. The VA still intends to roll out VistA 4 in 2018, she said, but is also looking beyond that deadline to put a strategy in place that extends well beyond her government service.

As part of those efforts, Council said the VA is examining the work of the Department of Defense to see what it's learning from its commercial EHR deployment; last July, a team led by Leidos, Cerner and Accenture won a $4.3 billion contract to implement the latter agency's EHR.

"[We're] taking that information and also leveraging it," she said. "And we're meeting with industry experts to ensure that what we have in place, what we leave behind when we move on, the next set of leaders can take and move forward with."

Council said that with IT overall, the agency is moving toward a "buy vs. build" strategy, where it looks for off-the-shelf software that can meet its needs first.

She first talked about the VA potentially procuring an off-the-shelf EHR option last fall. Both the VA and the DoD continue to be questioned regarding the interoperability between the agencies' two systems.

To learn more:
- watch the hearing