Currently, the Veterans Health Administration uses a 25-year-old computer system to schedule the VA medical appointments of the millions of veterans that visit their hospitals and doctors every year. Through years of patches and technological advancements, the software has turned into a relic that only those working there know how to use or fix.
To remedy this problem, the VA has invested over 160 million dollars over the past decade to develop a modern scheduling program that works with veterans to increase efficiency and usability. With little success, they are now turning to a new approach to see if the savviest minds in technology can create the perfect system.
Currently, making an appointment through the VA may take you through a complicated maze of telephone calls with 50,000 schedulers making over 80 million appointments a year. The main goal of this new system is to bring appointment scheduling into the future and allow anyone to schedule and change appointments from their computer, tablet or smart phone.
Challenge.gov is an online platform where different government agencies pose challenges and the public gets the chance to submit their solutions. And with the help of challenge.gov and a hefty 3 million dollar prize, the VA is hoping to entice some of the best software developers to help them out.
With government agencies like NASA, the FAA and the DoD looking for help, some of the prizes are well over a million dollars and boast challenges from video campaigns to measuring intracranial pressure. This challenge, admittedly a large one, is asking developers to create applications for phones, tablets and computers that can connect to the existing VA database while being sleek and easy to use.
The Big Picture
Although updating a scheduling system may seem far removed from helping veterans, this update is one part of a larger campaign to upgrade the health administration to keep up with the demand created by a large influx of service members and veterans over the past decade.
In April, when the Inspector General revealed that patients were waiting far longer for medical appointments than publicized, a push to hire nearly 2,000 doctors, psychologists, nurses and support staff kicked off and updating this system should further simplify the process of getting medical treatment in a timely manner.
The contest wraps up in June and the winners will be announced in September, but don’t expect the switch to be immediate. It still may take a while to combine the winning entries with the current databases, but overall this is a step in the right direction.
“This contest marks a major change in direction by the VA, away from software that is so customized that only VA can use it, toward open standards and commercial systems that build on proven practices,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.