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– 2024 Outlook: Virginia Prepares for Electronic Health Records and Artificial Intelligence Focus

The agency saw some largescale digital developments this year around EHR modernization and increase…

This year, the organization observed notable transformations in the online domain concerning EHR modernization and the escalation of healthcare expenses.

Washington, D.C., office of the Department of Veteran Affairs Photo Credit: Bob Korn/Shutterstock

Throughout this year, the Department of Veterans Affairs underwent substantial IT progressions, encompassing updates pertaining to the implementation of the PACT Act, advancements in electronic health records, and other significant initiatives like zero trust.

As the entity embarks on the upcoming year, it is imperative to sustain momentum on these endeavors, especially as it recommences its EHR enhancement project, persists in advocating for the recruitment of claims processors and other technological talents amidst the evolving hybrid workforce landscape, and pursues various administrative objectives, notably those linked to the development of artificial intelligence.

Integration of Online Services to Address Healthcare Needs

In the provision of healthcare to veterans in 2023, the VA reported achieving record figures across various metrics. Veterans underwent over 116 million healthcare encounters, marking a surge of more than 3 million compared to historical data.

Innovations such as healthcare and electronic firms like the Health and Benefits App, which surpassed 1 million downloads this year, significantly contributed to this milestone. To consolidate all VA healthcare services under one platform, the VA announced in October its plan to migrate the My HealtheVet portal to VA.gov.

In total, over 1.5 million service members received more than \(136 billion in earned benefits in 2023, encompassing compensation and pension benefits amounting to \)150 billion. Furthermore, the VA processed 15.9% more pension and veteran claims than the previous record, with a surge of 39% in applications for earned benefits, totaling over 2.4 million, thereby establishing new benchmarks for the VA.

To manage the influx of hundreds of thousands of PACT Act-related claims, the surge in claims due to the pandemic necessitated an escalation in the demand for claims processors and automation. As of now, 76.7% of the 710,000+ PACT Act-related claims have been approved since the enactment of the Act.

The Veterans Health Administration employed over 400,000 individuals, with an additional 32,000 personnel engaged in Veteran Benefits Management. This expansion was facilitated by a growing workforce. Over the next four years, the VA aims to recruit nearly 52,000 individuals annually.

Alterations in the EHR Program

Following an evaluation and restructuring of the system, the VA halted its electronic health record development initiative in April 2023 and suspended further deployments.

During the subsequent “assess and target” phase, the organization compiled a report outlining essential modifications to address prevailing issues concerning the accuracy, operational consistency, and data reliability within the new EHR system.

In a press release issued during the suspension, VA Secretary Denis McDonough emphasized the need for rectification, stating, “We’ve received feedback from service members and VA professionals indicating that the new electronic health record falls short of expectations—and we are holding Oracle Accenture and ourselves accountable to rectify this situation.” During this remediation phase, the focus will be on rectifying the issues, listening to stakeholders, and developing a contemporary electronic health record that benefits service members and professionals.

The Oracle-Accenture EHR program is anticipated to resume in the coming months. Tanya Bradsher, appointed as the deputy secretary of the organization in September, will oversee the program. Leveraging insights from the new report, Bradsher initiated a listening tour across five locations as part of formulating an effective strategy for 2024.

“We are currently conducting a thorough review with the update,” Bradsher remarked regarding her listening tour. “We are collaborating with our clinicians to ensure seamless operations.” This presents a valuable opportunity for me to gather feedback from our practitioners, sharing real-world scenarios and insights from discussions and forums.

The Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago is slated to implement MHS Genesis concurrently with the Department of Defense.

Sites that have not transitioned to Oracle-Cerner continue to utilize the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) Computerized Patient Record System (CPRS) to deliver healthcare services.

VLM Expansion

Since its inception in 2019, the modern Veteran’s Legacy Memorial witnessed substantial growth this year. By Veterans Day, the platform’s database surged from 4.8 million records in May to 9.8 million.

The addition of nearly 10 million entries drew from databases encompassing over 4,000 veterans laid to rest in 87 countries, VA cemeteries, DOD-managed burial sites like Arlington Cemetery, and 13 out of the 14 National Park Service graveyards.

“The process of incorporating almost 5 million additional records posed significant challenges,” shared James LaPaglia, the online services officer at the National Cemetery Administration, in a conversation with GovCIO Media & Research. “We delved into a database that was novel to us, encountering a myriad of variations in locations, names, and cemetery designations.”

Approximately 80,000 new records were added from state, cultural, and national cemeteries, along with renowned sites like Gettysburg and New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery. The database now comprises over 73,000 monuments.

2024 Modernization Initiatives

The organization’s primary focus in the upcoming year will revolve around establishing frameworks for AI integration and advancing EHR systems.

A pivotal figure behind the White House’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, advocating for the development of ethical and reliable AI, was the National Artificial Intelligence Institute of VHA. This was followed by Biden’s executive order instructing firms on leveraging AI for national security and global competitiveness.

The institute launched an AI Tech Sprint to foster the creation of AI-driven tools aimed at reducing employee burnout. The VA asserts that these tools contributed to a 20% reduction in employee stress between 2022 and 2023.

Under Secretary for Health Shereef Elnahal expressed in a VA address that “AI solutions can streamline non-clinical tasks, enabling our team to focus more on what they do best: caring for Veterans.” This initiative is poised to alleviate clinician burden while enhancing senior healthcare services simultaneously.

A competition will be hosted by the VA, offering a $1 million prize to winning teams that devise solutions in two critical areas:

  • Speech-to-text options for documenting medical consultations.
  • Document management systems to expedite the integration of non-VA medical records into a patient’s VA dossier.
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Last modified: February 23, 2024
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