VA's slow but steady push to modernize its technology

The VA is taking steps to mitigate its reputation as slow to adopt technology by creating patient portals, launching an online scheduling app and turning to artificial intelligence to boost precision medicine efforts.

This summer, a Commission on Care final report listed IT systems among the VA’s many problems, noting that “antiquated” key systems do not adequately support the needs of 21st century healthcare.

Since then, the VA has turned to the private sector in search of an EHR system to replace VistA, its decades-old homegrown system, in favor of one that would support a variety of functions including scheduling, billing, claims, payment, mobile applications and telehealth and would include tools to help veterans better manage their health.

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Scheduling, in particular, has been a pain point for the organization going back to a 2014 report that found as many as 40 military veterans died while waiting for treatment at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System, part of a “secret waiting list” designed to hide about 1,500 ailing veterans who waited for months at a time to see a doctor. The scandal has only grown in scope.

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By next summer, the VA plans to consolidate more than 500 public-facing websites into one portal, notes an article on Industry Dive, which outlines the system’s specs and security measures: “Not only is the new platform consolidated, it's user friendly, no longer complicated and unwieldy.”

Meanwhile, the sheer size of the VA system means it has a virtual treasure trove of data—if only it could be put to use.

To that end, the VA has also taken steps into the artificial intelligence realm, recently partnering with Flow Health to build a “medical knowledge graph to inform decision-making and train artificial intelligence to personalize care plans,” according to an announcement.

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The objective “is to understand the common elements that make certain people susceptible to particular diseases, to pinpoint effective treatments and identify possible side effects in order to inform care decisions.”