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VA Unveils Online Appointment Scheduling for Patient Access

The online appointment scheduling system will allow veterans to plan their own appointments at their leisure, improving patient access to care.

online appointment scheduling

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- VA announced the official launch of its online appointment scheduling system, aiding patients in accessing the primary or specialty care appointment that best suits their schedules.

The online appointment scheduling system is only available at participating VA facilities and requires a Premium My HealtheVet patient portal account. Veterans without a Premium portal account can upgrade online or by calling the patient portal coordinator at their local VA health facility.

The move to online appointment scheduling helps veterans access their own primary or specialty care appointments in a more convenient and intuitive way.

Calling the VA to schedule an appointment as proven an arduous process, as it has in other areas of healthcare. Using online appointment scheduling, patients can see all of the available appointment times in one place and select the appointments that best suit patient needs.

“Rather than making a phone call and playing go fish, now I can [go online and] pick the date that best fits my schedule,” said Army Veteran G. Paul Moffett, who helped test the system in a Tennessee-based VA facility. “You can use it anytime, anywhere — on whatever Internet-access device you have. I’m excited about it. It’s great stuff.”

Via the online appointment scheduling tool, VA patients can self-schedule appointments, request help scheduling appointments, view or cancel appointments, track the status of an appointment request, send messages about appointment requests, and receive notifications about appointments.

The online appointment scheduling program has not rolled out in all VA medical centers, but the agency said it is currently working to make the technology available in all facilities. VA has a running list of facilities with online appointment scheduling options.

Patients will know that they have access to the online appointment scheduling software by logging into their My HealtheVet patient portal and identifying an appointment scheduling tab. Patients must have had a primary care visit in a VA facility within the past two years to have access to the appointment scheduling software.

VA announced an online appointment scheduling contract with Document Storage Systems in May 2017. The $19 million contract was for a mobile app for online appointment scheduling, and it has not yet been made clear whether this most recent announcement is related to the May contract.

The May contract was reportedly a part of VA’s work to fulfill the Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016, which called on the agency to address the appointment wait time and scheduling issues that have long plagued VA.

The law required VA to carry out an 18-month trial period during which at least three Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) could offer mobile appointment scheduling to 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 at the time. “Self-scheduling apps are widely used in the private sector and will help create a better experience for Veterans and their medical care providers.”

Online appointment scheduling systems are not only important for easing patient access to care, but also for improving the patient experience. Industry experts outside of the VA have been tapping online appointment scheduling software to streamline patient experiences with administrative staff, making the entire care process simpler and more convenient to access.

VA is now beginning to adopt those same strategies to both address their wait time and care access issues as well as create an easier experience for veterans. By implementing a patient portal- and mobile application-hosted online appointment scheduling system, VA is helping patients to access care with less of a burden.

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