Las Vegas — When the Defense Digital Service started working with a contractor to improve the IT supporting veterans’ medical records, the techies were faced with a staggering number of missing documents.
About 20,000 documents — known as service treatment records — had silently failed to move from the Defense Department to the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Defense Digital Service Director Chris Lynch Wednesday at a public sector breakfast at Amazon re:Invent.
While problems around transferring veterans’ medical records are not unknown in the federal space, the public rarely hears how the federal government, and specifically a group like the Defense Digital Service, is trying to fix the problem.
Defense Digital Service discovered records were getting lost after doctors made a seemingly unimportant decision when uploading files: PDF, TIF or JPEG.
“Here’s the thing: there’s only one file format — one — that’s the correct answer: PDF. Because the VA will only accept PDFs,” he said. “What do you think happens to the other documents? They silently disappear.”
The team wrote file converters, and worked on a host of other issues surrounding the system, including that a major software update hadn’t been shipped in 18 months when the digital service team came on the scene.
Defense Digital Services worked with the team to get them into production every two weeks, Lynch said.
“The documents when they disappear — here’s what they are: They’re the document that says, ‘I was exposed to hazardous chemicals and I need chemotherapy for my cancer treatment,’” Lynch said. “I get goosebumps every time I tell that story. That’s why I show up.”
On Wednesday, Lynch also made a pitch to the audience at the breakfast to come join the digital service team.
“I believe deeply that people like you and people like me can show up in government and make a difference,” Lynch said.
As he closed his presentation, Lynch said to the crowd: “The most boring, mundane, everyday part of your skill set that you take for granted is novel, and unique and matters. It matters. I hope that you’ll come join what we’re doing.”
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