VA’s Aggressive Plan for Shedding Its 'Back-to-the-Future' Era Scheduling System

A wheelchair sits outside the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Atlanta.

A wheelchair sits outside the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Atlanta. David Goldman/AP File Photo

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VA is now taking bids for commercial software to replace a clunky 1980s-era system for scheduling medical appointments.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is now taking bids for commercial software to replace a clunky 1980s-era system for scheduling veterans' medical appointments.

For its new Medical Appointment Scheduling System, VA is seeking commercially available off-the-shelf software that can be linked up with its existing health IT system, the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture.

The seven-year, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract carries a potential price tag of $690 million if all option years are exercised, according to contracting documents posted online Friday.

Bids are due Jan. 9, and the agency hopes to issue an award by spring 2015.

Delayed care for veterans seeking care mired the agency in controversy last spring. Internal watchdog reports cited manipulation of data by VA schedulers as one of key culprit. But the antiquated system they used -- which lacked an auditing function -- may have been a contributing factor.

A new scheduling system has been a top priority of VA Secretary Robert McDonald, the former Procter & Gamble executive confirmed by the Senate to take over the scandal-plagued agency last summer.

“When it comes to the care of our veterans, we want the best technology the American marketplace can provide,” he said in a statement. “A new and innovative scheduling system is an essential tool we must have in place to enable us to provide our veterans with timely and high-quality health care.”

After awarding the contract, the agency aims for “an aggressive schedule to get core capabilities delivered to all VA medical facilities,” according to the contracting documents.

VA Chief Information Officer Stephen Warren said the goal is to deploy the new software’s core capabilities within two years of the contract.  

Key attributes of the software VA seeks include the ability to manage appointments, including storing the date of the request and preferred appointment date, as well as the ability to easily monitor appointment status, cancelations and requests to reschedule.

In addition, the system needs to have the ability to integrate services across health care facilities and be able to produce capacity management reports to more efficiently deploy staffing and resources.

If successful, VA’s ambitious two-year rollout goal would be a far cry from the last time the agency attempted to update its scheduling system. The agency spent eight years and $167 million developing a scheduling replacement before deciding to cancel it in 2009 after it failed to deliver the promised capability.

The timeline this go-around, it should be noted, has also slipped slightly. VA initially planned to issue the RFP for commercial software by the end of September -- nearly two months ago.

“We want to make sure we bring in that solution that's going to solve this problem once and for all,” Warren told reporters last week to explain the delay. “We want to make sure we've given the appropriate amount of time so that it gets done right this time."

In developing the solicitation, VA met with veterans service organizations and combed through 300 technical comments from potential bidding teams.

In any case, the new system promises to be a big improvement over the current system, a creaky, patched-over system built during the Reagan administration. In fiscal 2014, it handled more than 100 million appointments for some 8.9 million veterans.

“Serving this volume requires state of the art capacity management tools and a solution that provides for efficient scheduling to meet veteran demand,” contracting documents state.