VA looks to private sector to fill scheduling need

In the wake of the massive scheduling scandal that has rocked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to its core, CIO Stephen Warren said the department will turn to the private sector to find replacement technology.

At a hearing in front of a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee this week, Warren--talking about the VA's VistA electronic health record system--said that while the agency's ability to boost clinical care efforts is among the nation's best, its scheduling component has not been supported at an appropriate level.

An internal VA audit released June 9, however, did not cite VistA as the cause of the scandal. In fact, of the 18 immediate action items recommended as a result of the audit's findings, none called for scrapping or changing the software system.

Still, the audit referred to the scheduling component of VistA as "antiquated" and "problematic." It also revealed that more than 57,000 veterans were still awaiting care 90 days after requesting an appointment.

The commercial solution would work within the confines of the VistA EHR, and would be installed by the end of the 2015 fiscal year.

In July 2009, then-VA CIO Roger Baker suspended nearly 50 failing IT projects, including an online appointment scheduling system. Dubbed the Replacement Scheduling Application Development program, the system had cost the VA $167 million at the time of its suspension.

In what would prove to be a foretelling statement, Warren--the VA's principal deputy assistant secretary for information and technology at the time--told Federal Computer Week that even though the project had been put on hold, urgency to update the scheduling system remained.

"The need is critical," he said.

The Government Accountability Office subsequently ripped the VA in July 2010 for its inability to build the system.

A request for proposal for the commercial system is due out next week, according to Warren.

To learn more:
- watch the hearing