Hey, in the last couple years or so, the Department of Veterans Affairs has accomplished at lot. It’s time for people of good will to give them credit. (Few others have, which kinda pisses me off.)
What we’re talking about is for-real cultural change, which is really required pretty much everywhere, now or not too far off.
This is a only the brief version, which doesn’t do any of it justice.
Employee innovation. In pretty much all organizations, the front line workers know a lot that never gets to the big decision makers, and that includes how to run things better. However, the VA has run innovation contests, which have already resulted in better customer service for veterans. For example, the need for some redundant doctor visits has been eliminated.
Employee interaction with customers. VA workers believe in what they’re doing, and can now engage with veterans via social media. They know how to do stuff, and this can mean far more of ’em helping their customers. Sure, this means that they might say the wrong thing, which is true of employees everywhere (I’ve done it, especially during my IBM days). It also makes public affairs offers (PR) nervous, but it gets the job done a lot better.
Blue Button. It’s one of the Administration’s real wins in health care, truly interagency, and now available in lots of places outside government. With Blue Button, a vet (or service member) can download health records, and soon job skills, in a useful form. The private sector is adopting Blue Button and that changes a lot in health care. (I just had to fill out two forms with data that my primary doctor already has.) (Complicated root canal deal, okay now.)
Vendor innovation. Vendors, particularly in health care, have lots of good ideas they’re doing, like getting medical instruments to talk to the Blue Button stuff. Consider that blood pressure or other heart measuring tools can be connected wirelessly to a smart phone, which can update Blue Button records.
Tablets, like iPads. Anyone who uses a tablet can see that they’d be great in the hands of a nurse, doctor, or other medical professional as they make their rounds. The VA is starting to try tablets out. For that matter, a wounded warrior, stuck in a bed for a long time, can use a tablet to stay in touch with family, look for jobs, and play games.
Open source. VA health records systems, VistA, is a model for the health industry, maybe the best system around. Making it open source, and getting it to the osehra.org repository, can help get the benefits of open source, which can include real innovation, improved reliability and security, and lower cost.
Big outreach to vets using social media. VA’s social media team is doing great things, among them, doing outreach using multiple platforms. Of particular interest is VA’s blog VAntage Point and the entire set of fan pages for VA medical centers across the country.
Craig Newmark is the founder of the internet site Craigslist.