VA Clinical Scheduling Contest Winners Announced

The VA just announced the three winners of their innovative Medical Appointment Scheduling Contest. The winners are, in first place, Health eTime by MedRed, LLC, in second place, OH Scheduler by Oroville Hospital, and in third place is the HP Open Community Team Submission which was put together by a team of open source developers led by HP. These were judged to be the top three systems out of a total field of 41 entries submitted by June 13th of this year.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched the contest last year as part of an innovative approach to enhance the capabilities of it's world class electronic health record (EHR) system, VistA. The contest was hosted in the website. The contest was driven by the VA’s decision to transition its VistA into an openly architected product and to challenge developers to offer standards-based, modular components that can be extended and modified much more easily than customized products. 

Proprietary systems were eligible for prizes, but all entries in the contest were required to have open connections, or APIs. The VA was particularly interested in open source solution. In order for the contestants to be judged they had to contribute their open APIs and any open source content in their entries to the Open Source Electronic Health Record Agent (OSEHRA).

The VA will use the results of the contest to design final specification for an appointment scheduling system that will be deployed nationally through the VA medical system, the largest medical system in the United States. This contest is part a a full shift by the VA to an open source collaborative development methodology for the continuing development of VistA. The full scope of the strategy was laid out by Acting CIO Stephen Warren during the Second Annual OSEHRA Summit in Bethesda, MD a month ago.

A previous attempt to modernize the 25-year-old module by contracting out the work ended as a complete failure at a loss of $167 million. This failure was one of the major factors in the VA's decision to shift away from using government contractors to collaborating with open source community in the continuing development of VistA.

The prizes for the contest were $1,825,000 for First Place, $705,000 for Second Place, and $520,000 for Third Place.

The winning teams make for a very interesting combination of players.

The first place winner, MedRed, has become one of the few companies that has deployed products in both the VA VistA and DoD AHLTA environments. Their TBI Toolbox is becoming the enterprise solution for identifying, tracking, diagnosing, and studying traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) for active duty military personnel and veterans. The VA is currently piloting the TBI Toolbox application at the Richmond VA Polytrauma center. MedRed's victory may help bring a closer degree of collaboration between the VA and the Military Health System (MHS).

Second place winner, Oroville Hospital, is well known to Open Health News readers. Oroville was the first hospital in the world to self-implement VistA and has achieved a whole set of extraordinary milestones including developing an ePrescribe module for VistA and rolling out CPOE in the hospital. Oroville CEO, Robert Wentz, told OHNews, "this award validates Oroville Hospital's position on the need for providers to be involved in the continuing development and improvement of EHR software and gives us a place at the table in the development of VistA."

It is interesting that Wentz would make this point as this is one of the key points made by Dr. Bruce L. Wilder in a brilliant essay just published in OHNews titled "The Politics of the EHR: Why we’re not where we want to be and what we need to do to get there," where he lays out a clear strategy to reverse the current catastrophe facing hospitals trying to implement proprietary EHRs and facing failure rates in the 60% to 85% range. It is estimated that the excessive cost of proprietary EHR implementation, and high failure rate, are going to drive somewhere between one third and one half of US hospitals into bankruptcy in the next few years.

Third place winner, HP Open Community Team, had perhaps the broadest team of all. This team was organized by Ken Rubin from HP, a very active member of Open Health Tools and the open health community. Rubin reached out to the VistA community to put together a collaborative team to respond to the challenge. The team brought together a wide range of members of the VistA community.

It is going to be interesting to see how the VA is going to leverage all these contributions in their effort to upgrade the VistA scheduling module.