The Obama administration was told by technology officials in the Department of Veterans' Affairs that they were working on an overhaul of the department's system for scheduling patient appointments shortly after the president was first elected in 2008.
The Washington Times reported Sunday that the officials had briefed the Obama transition team on the need to reduce "excessive wait times through the development of a new system. The paper reported that the briefing papers noted that "application development" on the new system had been taking place since 2002.
In testimony before a House panel this past Wednesday, Government Accountability Office Managing Director for Information Technology Joel Willemssen said that work on the VA's schedule replacement policy had actually begun in 2000 and had cost $127 million since 2005.
The VA's scheduling system has been thrust into the spotlight in recent months by a scandal surrounding manipulation of patient wait times in order for VA hospital executives to claim unwarranted bonuses. Last week, acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson described the system as "outdated" in a congressional hearing, but had no update on the progress of creating a replacement.
"VA has been trying — and failing — to replace its outpatient scheduling system since 2000, wasting nearly $130 million in the process," Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, told the paper. "Because VA acquisition officials have proven time and again they are simply too inept to guide the development of a new proprietary appointment-scheduling system in an expedient and cost-effective manner, department leaders need to look at adopting commercial technologies that are being used in the private sector."
The brief prepared for Obama's transition team, which The Washington Times obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, described the current scheduling system as "rigid and [lacking] efficiency ... Providers must maintain multiple calendars for clinical activities, extended hours or slots needed for special circumstances, such as compensation and pension examinations."