VA to start accepting bids for new patient scheduling system

Monday - 8/25/2014, 5:18pm EDT

The Department of Veterans Affairs said on Monday that it plans a full and open competition to build a new patient scheduling system for medical appointments in an effort to replace systems that VA has long acknowledged are antiquated.

The department's acquisition strategy envisions an aggressive timeline. VA plans to issue a final request for proposals sometime in September, but it plans to publish at least one draft RFP in the meantime in order to gather formal industry input. VA wants to award a final contract by the end of December.

"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," Robert McDonald, the secretary of veterans affairs 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. As VA recommits to its mission of caring for veterans and evaluating our actions through the lens of what serves them best, we know a better scheduling system is necessary to provide them the timely, quality health care that they have earned and deserve."

VA, which has been in the midst of an iterative process to modernize its overall electronic health records system — VistA — for several years, has also been talking with vendors for months about its medical scheduling system in particular.

But the specific imperative to build a new patient scheduling system intensified significantly in the aftermath of media disclosures about long patient wait times and potentially-resultant deaths within the VA healthcare system. A few hours after former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned his office as part of the scandal, VA told industry it wanted to hold a series of three en-masse meetings to chart the Medical Appointment Scheduling System's way forward. The first meeting, held at the MITRE Corporation's offices in McLean, Virginia, was filled to capacity.

VA said on Monday that it would pursue commercial IT solutions to build its new scheduling system, reaffirming a stance the department took during congressional testimony in June.

"We are moving very aggressively, not only to make the improvements so we can bring relief to the folks on the line, but also to bring a commercial product in and interface it with the existing business system," Stephen Warren, VA's acting chief information officer told Federal News Radio in an interview immediately following the June hearing.

But VA appears to have been looking for an off-the-shelf solution for patient scheduling long before it was embroiled in scandal. In March 2013, it offered reward money via Challenge.gov to anyone who could engineer a solution to patient scheduling that also interfaced with the open-source version of VistA. It wound up awarding $1.8 million to a team of developers led by Washington, D.C.-based MedRed, LLC.

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