- The VA selected Document Storage Systems as its vendor to enable patient appointment self-scheduling services, fulfilling parts of the Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016.
The $19.6 million contract will help drive better veteran access to healthcare by letting patients have more scheduling control. The technology will be hosted on mobile devices, tablets, and computers and allow veterans to schedule, cancel, and modify appointments.
Veterans can use the tool for primary care, specialty, and mental and behavioral health appointments. Patients can also use the tool for telehealth appointments.
Veterans will be able to manage appointment availability and view prompts and reminders for follow-up care. The mobile application allows patients to schedule appointments at any time of day, as opposed to call centers that require patients to call during certain office hours.
The tool will also integrate with VistA, the VA’s EHR.
The contract will fulfill various aspects of the Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016, passed in part to address the VA’s difficulty with appointment scheduling. The law calls for the agency to establish an 18-month trial period during which at least three Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) offer mobile appointment scheduling for patients.
“The VA is making critical improvements to Veteran health care, and will always look to leverage innovative tools that will put more capabilities in the hands of Veterans,” VA Secretary David J. Shulkin, MD, said in a statement. “Self-scheduling apps are widely used in the private sector and will help create a better experience for Veterans and their medical care providers.”
Letting patients schedule their own appointments is a key component to a positive patient experience. When patients can view appointment availability and select the times and providers that work best for them, patients receive better, more satisfactory care.
“Patient self-scheduling is a core solution that addresses the fundamental challenge of providing the right access to care,” DSS, Inc President and CEO Mark Byers said in a separate statement. “We are proud to be playing a key role in helping to support Congressional mandates that allow Veterans to schedule and confirm medical appointments through their mobile devices. This allows Veterans to feel like true partners in their care processes.”
Currently, the VA’s Mobile Veterans Appointment Request (VAR) app is available in 99 VA facilities. The agency is currently working on implementing the VAR app in other VA facilities across the country.
The VA has a checkered history with patient appointment access. Back in 2014 a Phoenix-area VA facility fraudulently reported appointment wait times to make it appear as though patients can easily access healthcare. This scandal resulted in then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation.
In years following, the VA has assessed and confronted many of its appointment scheduling issues. As recent as last year, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report showed that 60 out of 180 patients could not access a primary care appointment at the VA. Those who did see doctors experienced wait times between 22 and 71 days.
“VA healthcare is a high-risk area,” GAO wrote. “In several cases, newly enrolled veterans were never contacted to schedule appointments, due to medical center staff failing to comply with VHA policies for scheduling such appointments or medical center staff being unaware of veterans’ requests.”
Since then, the VA has been working to improve the patient experience and make appointments easier to access. At the end of last year, President Obama signed the Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016, which prompted the VA to adopt a self-scheduling tool.
Congress has also passed laws to extend the Veterans Choice program, which allows veterans facing extraordinary appointment wait times or other barriers to receive third-party care outside of the agency.