VA's Epic scheduling system gets early praise from Ohio pilot

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been piloting a scheduling system designed by Epic at a site in Columbus, Ohio, and officials on the project are praising its early success, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Epic teamed up with Leidos for the project in a $624 million, five-year contract with the goal of resolving the wait time issues plaguing many  VA facilities.

Will Johnson, the vice president for veterans affairs at Leidos, told the publication the system could be implemented at all VA  hospitals and clinics in a fraction of the time and at half the cost.

"We communicated to the VA that we are able to do a national deployment in 24 months. We can do that for less than $350 million," said Mr. Johnson told the Wisconsin State Journal.

Epic's scheduling system has been operational at the Columbus facility since April 9, and the company's vice president for implementation, Dan Sullivan, said early results are promising.

"We are looking at wait times and access to care. Those numbers look positive so far," Mr. Sullivan told the Wisconsin State Journal. "In the brief period of time we've been live, we've seen improvement in same-day appointments, through May." Neither Epic nor Leidos provided specific data on the project's results.

Staff at the Columbus VA are also pleased with the new system. Joanne Kusko, group practice manager, told the news outlet it is easier to use than its prior system, and its resource-based build means appointments can't be scheduled if they require a specific piece of equipment or unique room that may be unavailable or broken at the time.

The project is not a certainty, though. The agency has been grappling with leadership changes that could compromise the deal struck nearly three years ago by then-Secretary David Shulkin, MD. A Senate committee plans to hold a hearing June 27 to confirm Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie as Dr. Shulkin's permanent replacement.

The VA's contract with Cerner could potentially throw another wrench in the project's future. In May, the agency signed a 10-year, $10 billion deal with Cerner to put the Veterans Department on the same EHR as the Defense Department, which has been transitioning to Cerner since winning a contract in 2015. That rollout has faced a number of problems, according to a DOD report that called it "neither operationally effective nor operationally suitable" in some locations.

House lawmakers are planning to establish a new oversight panel tasked with monitoring the VA's EHR transition.

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