VA is on a Mission to Improve the Customer Experience

Published: February 14, 2019

Digital GovernmentHealth ITInformation TechnologyInnovationVA

VA’s CTO is leading a charge to improve the VA customer experience by using information technology best practices.

During a panel at AFCEA Bethesda’s Health IT Summit in late January and again on a recent podcast from Government CIO, VA’s CTO, Charles Worthington, spoke about modernizing VA IT in order to provide outstanding customer service.

During “GovCast,” Government CIO’s podcast, Worthington stated that his top priority over the last year has been “leading [VA’s] digital modernization initiative.”  This effort led to the relaunch of  VA wants to make sure that it offers the best customer facing experience of any federal agency. The department wants customer interactions to be as good as interacting with a bank or top online retailer in the private sector. 

At the AFCEA event, Worthington said that is now very customer focused and provides a unified picture of services that vets can get from VA. Since the website’s launch in November, the number of online health care applications is up 50% over the previous year. 

In 2019, Worthington said his focus will be taking lessons learned from the project and scaling them across VA, such as DevOps principles and using more modern tool sets.  He wants VA’s IT teams to use more agile and user-centered methodologies.

During the podcast, Worthington stated that his greatest challenges involve changes with people, processes and tools.  VA needs big improvements across all of these.  He believes VA needs to find ways to empower people to do the right thing more easily.  Worthington says there are “many good people in the federal government, but they don't feel empowered. They just follow the system and do things the way they've always done it.”

Worthington cited an example of empowerment that started in VA’s Loma Linda Medical Center. An administrator from the hospital had created a text message tool for a volunteer group he worked with outside of the hospital. When he heard that missed appointments were a big problem, he and a small team at the medical center repurposed the app to remind veterans of their appointments.  Implementing the app greatly reduced missed appointments at Loma Linda. Other centers started to hear about it and use expanded organically for about a year.  Last year the department scaled the project nationwide. It's been very successful and has reduced over 100,000 missed appointments since it went live across the U.S.

Worthington stated during the podcast that there’s a lot of talk about the federal government needing innovation. And although he believes that is needed, he thinks much of what needs to be done isn't innovative.  It's taking common best practices in the commercial world, like those used for web development, and applying them in the federal space.  

Along these same lines, he stated at the AFCEA event, “Let’s focus on making current IT projects more awesome!  It’s on all of us to talk to all of our teams and find out the pain points and fix them. We don’t need big bang fixes.”