Defense

VA to Kick Off Hunt For New Patient Scheduling System Next Month

Three statues portraying a wounded soldier being helped, stand on the grounds of the Minneapolis VA Hospital.

Three statues portraying a wounded soldier being helped, stand on the grounds of the Minneapolis VA Hospital. // Jim Mone/AP

The Department of Veterans Affairs is seeking a “cutting-edge” commercial, off-the-shelf scheduling system to replace the clunky legacy module that helped mire the agency in controversy over long wait times faced by veterans seeking care.

By the end of September, VA plans to issue a solicitation for a new system to manage the scheduling of veterans’ medical appointments.

Contractors will have 30 days to respond to the request-for-proposals, and VA expects to issue an award by the end of the calendar year.

“We want this process to be open to all eligible vendors to make sure the nation’s veterans have the full benefits the innovative marketplace has to offer,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald, who’s been on the job about a month, said in a statement. “When we can put a solid scheduling system in place, this will free up more human resources to focus on direct veterans’ care.”

While the full RFP won’t be issued until next month, VA said it plans to issue a draft RFP some time before then to gather more input from vendors and other stakeholders.

Latest Effort to Improve VA's IT Systems

Whistleblower reports of veterans facing long wait times at medical facilities and VA employees manipulating wait-list data rocked the agency this past spring, eventually leading to the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

VA characterized the scheduling-system RFP as the latest in a series of moves to overhaul the IT systems undergirding the agency’s patient-care practices.

The agency recently awarded a contract to improve the current scheduling interface, which will begin to be rolled out in January. VA is also developing the capability to allow veterans to request certain types of primary care and mental-health appointments using their smartphones. In October, VA plans to roll out new telehealth capabilities.

VA said the acquisition process would comply with new requirements mandated by Congress in legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this summer.

Under one of those provisions, VA is required to work with a pro-bono task force of private sector technology experts -- coordinated by the Northern Virginia Technology Council -- to come up with improvements to the scheduling system.

But VA has been stymied by previous attempts to update its scheduling systems. In 2009, after eight years of development and spending $167 million, VA canceled its planned “Replacement Scheduling Application Development Program” after it failed to deliver the promised capability.

The road to a fully functioning and deployed revamped scheduling system will likely be a long one. Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told a House committee this summer the department likely wouldn’t be able to field a new scheduling system until 2016.

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