VA’s Scheduling System Revamp Will Be Big Test of Agency’s Agile Approach

By Jack Moore // August 29, 2014

Matt York/AP

The last attempt by the Department of Veterans Affairs to update the system used by hundreds of VA facilities nationwide to schedule and manage veterans’ medical appointments was one of those failed IT projects that have come to hog the spotlight in the age.

In 2009, after eight years of development and costing $167 million, VA canceled that program after it failed to deliver the promised capability.

VA this week announced it would kick off the search for a full replacement system beginning next month.

And even amid the scandal over the agency’s handling of patient times -- stemming in no small part from the archaic system VA had been saddled with -- agency IT officials are bullish failure won’t be an option this time.

That’s because since the failure of that last attempt, VA has been taking a new approach to modernizing its legacy IT systems. Rather than building massive, monolithic systems with development lead times stretching into years, the agency is breaking big projects into smaller pieces and making sure they can deliver functionality in the short term.

It’s called agile, or modular, development. Five years ago, VA began pushing project managers to deliver ...

Can You Forecast the Spread of a Deadly Disease?

By Caitlin Fairchild // August 18, 2014

Delimene Saint Lise holds her 2-month-old daughter Gisline inside their tent home in the Delmas section of Port-au-Prince as the child suffers with Chikungunya, a newly arrived mosquito-borne illness.
Delimene Saint Lise holds her 2-month-old daughter Gisline inside their tent home in the Delmas section of Port-au-Prince as the child suffers with Chikungunya, a newly arrived mosquito-borne illness. // David McFadden/AP

How do you accurately predict the spread of a painful and sometimes deadly disease? 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is hoping to do just that, with its latest crowdsourcing project. 

The Chikungunya virus is spread by mosquitos, and symptoms include fever, joint pain, muscle pain, joint swelling and rash. There is no vaccine or medicine to treat the virus, and it's now been detected in the Western hemisphere.

Until recent years, the Americas had not seen a case of Chikungunya in decades. The virus originated in Africa, then spread to South and Southeast Asia, and in 2013 appeared in the Caribbean. By May 2014, 10 imported cases had been reported in Florida.

Now, DARPA wants to track and forecast the spread of the disease and is willing to pay as much as $150,000 to anyone who can do so. 

The finalists with the best solutions will be invited to DARPA for the program finale meeting, where they will collaborate and share best practices.

If you'd like to throw your hat in the ring, initial submissions are due Sept. 1, 2014. Check out more information about the competition here

E-Prescriptions Hit 1 Billion for First Time in 2013

By Bob Brewin // July 17, 2014

David Smart/

Electronic prescriptions in the United States hit 1 billion for the first time in 2013 and eclipsed the number of written new and renewal prescriptions of 800,000 by 200,000, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health information Technology reported.

This spike marked a ten-fold increase from 2008 when only 7 percent of prescriptions were written electronically, Meghan Hufstader Gabriel and Matthew Swain wrote in an ONC issue brief published July 11.

They pulled data from an e-prescription network operated by Surescripts and used by the majority of community pharmacies in the United States. From 2008 through 2014, the number of community pharmacies able to receive electronic prescriptions increased from 76 to 96 percent, ONC reported.

ONC spokesman Peter Ashkenaz said the e-prescription count did not include those done electronically by the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments and Kaiser Permanente. These three largest health care systems in the country collectively serve 27 million patients or 8.5 percent of the U.S. population of 318 million and operate their own, closed e-prescribing systems.

ONC reported e-prescriptions recorded such a huge jump over the past five years because of financial incentive programs for doctors to adopt the technology, including ...

Federal Incentive Payments for EHRs to Doctors and Hospitals Edge $24 Billion

By Bob Brewin // June 12, 2014


The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services paid out the equivalent of the gross national product of Costa Rica -- $23.7 billion -- to hospitals and medical professionals from 2011 through April 2014 to adopt electronic health records.

Despite this whopping federal investment in EHRs, the JASON advisory group, which usually works on national security matters, blasted the lack of interoperability of EHRs as a serious impediment to the exchange of health data between doctors, patients and hospitals in a report discussed Tuesday at the monthly Health Information Technology Policy meeting run by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

The 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health – or HITECH – provided funds to spur hospitals and doctors to use certified EHR technology, with initial payments in 2011. The underlying supposition is that EHRs have the potential to improve the quality of patient care and reduce health care costs. Clinicians -- including doctors, osteopaths, nurse practitioners, chiropractors and more -- are eligible to receive $44,000 over five years under the Medicare EHR incentive program, and up to $63,750 over six years under Medicaid, with a base payment of $2 million to hospitals.

Elisabeth Myers, policy and outreach ...

NIH Launches $20 Billion Governmentwide IT Procurement

By Nextgov Staff // May 12, 2014

A researcher monitors a DNA sequencing machine at the NIH in Bethesda, Md.
A researcher monitors a DNA sequencing machine at the NIH in Bethesda, Md. // National Human Genome Research Institute/AP

A new governmentwide contract worth up to $20 billion includes everything from fax machines to genetic sequencers to enterprise storage, according to solicitation documents.

The Chief Information Officer-Commodities and Solutions -- or CIO-CS -- contract aims to support information technology across the federal government, particularly focusing on agencies involved in health care and clinical and biological research, like the National Institutes of Health and its parent, the Health and Human Services Department.

In addition to health-specific products and services, “the contract also contains general IT commodities, partly because medical systems are increasingly integrated within a broader IT architecture, requiring a systems approach to their implementation and a sound infrastructure for their operation,” the solicitation said.

CIO-CS is a 10-year, indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity contract with a ceiling value of $20 billion.

NIH posted the request for proposals last week and advised that any resulting rewards would be contingent upon the agency obtaining executive agent designation for this contract from the Office of Management and Budget.

NIH is one of a handful of agencies authorized to run governmentwide acquisition contracts, or GWACs, which are master contracts for popular products and services that agencies can simply purchase for a set price rather than negotiate their ...