It’s unfortunate that Roger Baker, CIO of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ CIO has announced his resignation just months before the completion of the planned wider rollout of the agency’s $537 million Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS). Under Baker’s tenure, the agency has made some significant leaps forward in technology usage and deployment to become not only a leader in the US, but a model for the UK’s National Health Service electronic health records project.
VBMS, a paperless benefits management processing system currently installed in 20 of 56 regional offices, and other efforts demonstrate the progress the VA has made since Baker accepted the role in 2008. Previously, the VA had been criticized for its inefficient approach to delivering services and care to tens of millions of veterans. It was often saddled with a reputation for long backlogs related to veteran claims as well as other inefficiencies.
Baker embraced technology as a way to overcome many of the criticisms leveraged at the VA. He established the Performance Management Accountability System (PMAS) which provides a data-driven reporting system aimed at increasing the efficiency of the agency’s IT spending by eliminating or fixing underperforming systems and optimizing new implementations. The PMAS program has since been adopted by the White House and other agencies.
In a statement following his resignation, Baker looked back at his time with the agency, noting with pride that “[o]ver the last four years, VA IT has come to be recognized as a leader in federal IT.” He noted the organization has:
- Improved its relationships with its IT customers
- Established one of the highest performing product delivery organizations in the world
- Achieved visibility to its networks and medical devices
- Focused decision-making based on metrics and not by anecdotes
- Become an IT organization that is seen as an investment for the VA rather than an expense
Among the examples of the VA’s progressive approach to embracing technology are:
- Plans to test a system which can analyze the huge amount of veteran health data stored in the VA’s electronic health record system – Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA). This effort is aimed at identifying red flags and risk factors that can help with the diagnosis of veterans and improve their quality of care
- The implementation of mobile devices such as tablet computers in VA hospitals and the use of mobile device management (MDM) solutions to protect data and ensure patient privacy
- The use of telepresence solutions to aid in the delivery of healthcare offerings for veterans who may not reside near a VA facility. This approach allows patients and doctors to connect electronically and through video applications for check-ups and the monitoring of a patient’s condition.
Baker’s presence at the VA will clearly be missed. No replacement has been named although the next CIO of the agency will have some big shoes to fill.
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