Robert McDonald: VA needs customer focus with IT projects

The Department of Veterans Affairs must focus more on usability with its IT projects, said Secretary Robert McDonald, speaking at an event hosted by Politico in the District of Columbia Aug. 6.

Among other things, McDonald criticized some of the projects' names, Nextgov reports. "If I went to a veteran and said, 'What's Blue Button?' they would have no idea," McDonald said. "What's wrong with ',' or ''?

The agency needs to look at everything through the eyes of consumers instead of the bureaucracy, he said.

After the wait-time scandal last year, McDonald said the VA is using a mobile app for scheduling while also updating its outdated medical appointment scheduling system. It's looking for an off-the-shelf scheduling system and plans to begin deploying it by 2016.

Most veterans are not taking advantage of the MyHealtheVet personal health record (PHR) and patient portal available to them, according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR).

Last year, the VA deployed its Summary of Care and Blue Button apps for field testing. The former offers information such as lab results, consults, medications and patient vitals data, while the latter provides access to electronic health records. The Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange (WEDI) reported in March that Blue Button is slowly catching on.

The VA said it to hopes provide access to all patients by late summer or early fall. It soon will begin testing a third app, dubbed Patient Viewer, which aims to shave time off the administrative tasks associated with treatment.

Still, the agency continues to come under criticism when it comes to its big IT projects. Its technology initiatives, as well as those of other federal agencies, all too often do not meet expectations and essentially become money pits, David Powner, director of information technology management issues at the Government Accountability Office, told a House subcommittee in June.

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