VA Becoming More Tech-Friendly Due to Veteran Demand

Posted in Uncategorized on June 5, 2018

As the population of veterans evolves to include more servicemen and women who grew up in the age of emerging technology, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is continuing to look for ways to become more technology-forward.VA Becoming More Tech-Friendly Due to Veteran Demand

The VA is rolling out a handful of technology-friendly initiatives on a regular basis, including the ability for veterans to use the same VA account log-in to access information and tools from across the administration – a change that would benefit a reported four million patient portal account holders. Veterans can also reportedly now use the same login information to schedule mental health and primary care appointments online.

VA Improves Technology Due to Veteran Demand

The VA has partnered with commercial IT leaders to explore what impactful changes can be made immediately to improve the VA healthcare “ecosystem.” For example, Google DeepMind – a leading artificial intelligence research group focused on improving socio-economic issues – is currently creating and running test algorithms based on VA data (70,000 “de-personalized” records) to see what improvements could be made for a more efficient and reliable system. This includes a predictive technology that may help prevent certain injuries and diseases in specific populations.

The VA also recently launched a beta version of its Lighthouse Lab, an interface offering software developers access to tools for creating mobile and web applications that can help veterans better manage their care, services, and benefits. The VA is seeking a small, initial-user group to begin building the Lighthouse Lab developer community that will help test APIs, build out documentation, develop governance standards and test developer support workflows. Lighthouse’s architecture supports the VA’s move toward adopting commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products and utilizing a new acquisition approach – like micro-purchasing agreements with lower thresholds – for technology solutions that can be rapidly deployed to veterans. Micro-purchasing allows the VA to increase the number of contracts awarded to small businesses and diversify its developer ecosystem.

One of the VA’s most massive undertakings, however, is facing a rockier road, as the VA works to move to a single tool for all patient electronic health records (EHR). In a statement released by former VA Secretary David Shulkin in 2017, the VA announced a move from its Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) to MHS Genesis, the same EHR system used by the Department of Defense. As of June 2018, the system is still being tested with use cases and a substantial number of issues still being addressed; the goal of a rollout across the military health care system is 2022. With the resignation of the VA’s Chief Information Officer in April 2018, the future of the transition to a digitized EHR system seems to become even more uncertain.

The good news is that the call for a more modernized system – and better access to it for both health care providers and veterans – is being heard and addressed. While the bigger, system-wide changes that affect millions of users understandably take more time, the VA is actively looking for “low-hanging fruit” that can, in the meantime, make high-impact improvements at lower costs. Ideally, the VA health care system will continue to move forward to meet the needs of veterans who enjoy and expect the benefits of technology in their everyday life.

Written by Megan Hammons

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