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VA begins search for new scheduling system

Jun. 19, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By | AMBER CORRIN   |   Comments
VA CIO Stephen Warren expects to award a contract for the new patient-scheduling system by the end of this fiscal year. / Colin Kelly/Staff

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The Veterans Affairs Department has launched its acquisition process for buying a new patient scheduling system, an effort that has been accelerated in wake of the recent scandals involving excessively long wait times for veterans to see medical professionals.

The VA on June 18 held an industry day to brief potential vendors on the upcoming acquisition, the first of several face-to-face meetings designed to convey the VA’s needs and get private-sector feedback and ideas. According to federal documents, the industry day’s two sessions were completely booked ahead of time, as were time slots for one-on-one meetings slated to take place from June 30 to July 2.

“We’re taking a series of immediate actions to ensure our Veterans receive the timely access to quality health care they have earned and deserve,” Sloan Gibson, acting VA secretary, said in a released statement. “We need lasting, long-term reforms, including a complete overhaul to replace the outdated technology for our scheduling system. Bringing an innovative scheduling product into our world-class electronic health record system is a crucial part of providing the scheduling staff in our facilities with the tools necessary to succeed.”

In a June 10 Senate testimony, VA CIO Stephen Warren told lawmakers he expects to award a contract for the new patient-scheduling system by the end of this fiscal year, with the system in place in fiscal 2015. It is not clear how much the contract potentially could be worth, but officials are anticipating a lengthy transition from the old system to the new version, Steven Schliesman, VA assistant deputy CIO for project management, reportedly told attendees at a recent industry meeting.

At least one factor in that transition will be the current system’s entanglement with the VA’s VistA electronic records program. The decades-old VistA and current scheduling system are mutually dependent, and VistA faces an uncertain future of its own as the VA determines the best approach to upgrading the system. Earlier this year, leaders at the VA and the Defense Department scrapped plans for a joint electronic health records program; DoD is moving forward with acquiring a new EHR program.

A June 9 internal audit report of the existing scheduling system described the program as “antiquated and problematic.” The report did not, however, place blame on VistA for the scheduling problems.

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