VA’s problem isn’t equipment, it’s people

It probably should come as no surprise that the Department of Veterans Affairs has been relying on an ancient computer program to manage electronic health records. Named VISTA (for Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture), the basic system appears to have been in use since 1978.

To his credit, new Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin seems to have been shocked that the VA has not found something better. This week, it was revealed the agency will be upgrading.

An electronic records system developed for the Pentagon, MHS Genesis, will be adapted for use by the VA. The cost will be astronomical — it cost the Pentagon $4.3 billion to develop MHS Genesis.

Shulkin expects the cost will be money well spent to improve veterans’ health care, however. In what may be the understatement of the week, he said, “It’s time to move forward and, as secretary, I was not willing to put this decision off any longer.”

With that comment, Shulkin put his finger on a large part of the problem at the VA. It is not equipment or buildings, but people.

For decades, the VA seems to have had higher priorities than upgrading its electronic records system — priorities such as more than $1 billion in cost overruns for a new facility in Colorado.

For the new system to do all of which it is capable, Shulkin will have to ensure VA personnel use it wisely. That may be a more difficult task than spending billions for the new equipment.

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