VA Decides to Move Forward With Scheduling Enhancements Developed In-House

The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to move forward with a nationwide rollout and test of homegrown improvements to the scheduling component of its electronic health record, MeriTalk learned late Monday.

Although a decision had been planned for Feb. 10, VA officials notified Congress of a minor delay until today. A VA official, who spoke to MeriTalk on condition of anonymity, said agency IT leaders have decided to continue and expand the in-house developed VistA Scheduling Enhancement. The decision has raised concerns on Capitol Hill about the department’s commitment to adopting modern commercial IT systems.

The scheduling component of the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) was at the center of the scandal involving secret waiting lists and veterans dying while waiting to receive care. The overall VistA EHR system is a massive collection of functional modules that have evolved independently over more than 30 years. There are now more than 130 distinct instances of VistA in use across the country.

The decision comes just days after congressional leaders sent a letter to VA Acting Chief Information Officer Rob C. Thomas requesting the agency begin submitting quarterly status reports on all major IT projects and programs, including four major scheduling component efforts.

The $642 million Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS) contract awarded in 2015 was suspended last year to study the homegrown enhancement effort–a move that immediately attracted the ire of Congress. MASS includes commercial scheduling software for VA schedulers, as well as a self-scheduling capability for veterans.

VA is also trying to expand the VistA Veterans Appointment Request (VAR) self-scheduling application from 45 Veterans Health Administration facilities to all VHA facilities. In addition, VA remains committed to evaluating a request for proposal for a commercial EHR pilot program required by the Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016.

The House Committee on Veterans Affairs expressed concern about the number of programs underway to improve scheduling systems.

“Suddenly, VA has four similar scheduling programs going at once,” wrote Committee Chairman Rep. David Roe, R-Tenn., and Ranking Member Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn. “Please explain how these four programs will be managed so that modern scheduling technology can be quickly delivered without creating unnecessary duplication, and without undermining [VA’s] preference for existing commercial off-the-shelf solutions.”

  1. Anonymous | - Reply
    Simply put, VistA is better. Suck it Congress, anybody can make a secret waiting list, no EHR will stop that. Just let the VA hire the people we need, then get out of the way. Oh, and tell you friend Trump that he needs to let us hire IT people too. You're cowards if you don't. You can't expect to allow the VA to hire 35,000+ employees, and none of them be IT. Or are you that ignorant?
  2. Anonymous | - Reply
    You are stupid or dumb? VistA is better? You mean that 40+ year old antique that continues to suck tax payer money and is still obsolete for today's needs. Have you not been following over the decades with the VA's disaster of an IT department? How many millions has the VA wasted over the years with no real improvements, many Vet's still without adequate service or response times. I can guess where you work. You are part of the problem. Get out of the way and let the real technologists fix these embarrassing issues.
  3. Anonymous | - Reply
    Maybe I know more about VistA, and EHRs as a whole, than you do. As for wasted millions, just wait until we throw billions at another company who sells idiots code built for a healthcare system that's dwarfed by the VA, and not ready for all the extra items the government will require. The system that works fine at County General might not do all the things VHA, congress, and the IG wants to see.
  4. Anonymous | - Reply
    I know I'm a little late to this article, but I'm hoping to get this information out there. I am currently a scheduler at the VA. The VSE that is now being forced on us as of March 30, 2018, is straight up garbage software. It contains more bugs than a rainforest. Not only that, but it adds yet another program that I have to keep open on already severely limited hardware. Currently without the VSE, I have to maintain between 6-10 programs open just to do my job. VSE does not eliminate any of those. In order to do any of the multitude of other things VistA does aside from just scheduling, I still have to keep VistA open and running. The user interface of the VSE is almost unusable, and time-wise, the process of making appointments has gone from often less than a minute in VistA to nearly five minutes in VSE; and that's IF the program actually doesn't crash while you're using it. The worries about secret wait lists, while legitimate and concerning as a veteran myself, will still be there regardless of any system that is used. Anyone can maintain a secret wait log in a paper notebook... I would support a change to a good functional system, like Epic, but VistA isn't necessarily broke, and it's a hell of a lot better than what's coming down the pipeline for us courtesy of VA IT officials who will not be using this calamity on a daily basis. They have failed both veterans and employees miserably by forcing this trash on us.
  5. Anonymous | - Reply
    I agree with the above, it is perfectly accurate. They could tweak Vista to cut out a few extra key strokes and you wont make a better program. No scheduler likes VSE or can use if quicker than Vista.

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