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IT to the rescue: Unraveling bureaucracy at the VA, one project at a time

Tracy Mayor | June 4, 2013
How a small, fast SWAT team is improving performance at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As chief learning officer at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Jim Warner is charged with supporting continuing education requirements for the whole workforce, a not inconsiderable task: The VHA is the country's largest integrated healthcare system, with some 270,000 clinical professionals at more than 1,700 sites of care serving 8.3 million veterans per year.

Shortly after his arrival in August 2012, Warner found himself struggling to get his arms around the multi-tentacled systems that track continuing education. On one side, he needs to reduce costs by being better able to ensure that practitioners are getting approval only for courses they actually need and by making sure those courses are delivered in the most cost-effective ways.

On the other side, Warner wants to streamline the process by which the VHA interacts with the 13 different credentialing associations, such as the American College of Healthcare Executives, that grant medical and healthcare practitioner certifications, each of which has unique and constantly changing requirements.

"My question to [Paschane] was, 'How do I use my experts — my human capital — in a more efficient way?'" says Warner. "Through PASS, we are looking at the entire system end to end."

Paschane elaborates: "Essentially we are re-engineering the way VHA analyzes requests and approves conferences by subjecting data to more rigorous review," he says. "We're cleaning the data and making it fit the structure so the internal core operation is smarter and more effective."

The expected end result: The 450 analysts who serve the continuing education needs of the entire VHA organization will be able to more accurately assess continuing education requests, getting practitioners approval for the right training more quickly.

"What's really powerful about this is that we're freeing our human capital to focus more on the exceptions and less on the routine," says Warner. "We're able to put more resident expertise into the software, build more of the process into the [system], which allows us to increase capacity without a significant increase in cost or in human resources," he says.

Paschane describes Method Enhancement Teams, which benefit both the VA as an organization and individual IT employees.

As Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration in the VA's Office of Administration (OA), Roy Hurndon's portfolio of responsibilities is vast. His customers are 10,000 VA staffers in the Washington area; the services he offers them include transportation, facilities management, health and wellness, environmental safety, media support, protocol requirements for cabinet-level employees, and more.

Hurndon has worked with the OSS on several projects aimed at using data in new ways to improve decision-making and reaction times within his organization.

In keeping the PASS discipline's commitment to monitor "emergent thinking" on performance from employees and customers, the OSS team designed and analyzed a rapid comment-card system and a more in-depth annual customer survey.

 

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