Written byBilly Mitchell
Within the next year, veterans’ experiences in navigating benefit programs and applying for health care online will be much more like buying insurance through USAA or opening a checking account online with Bank of America, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ chief technologist says.
The department in recent years has taken many simple but meaningful steps forward in providing a more modernized, streamlined and complete digital portal for veterans services — “improvements and little individual things,” VA CTO Charles Worthington explained. But that’s all part of the bigger picture that will soon culminate in “making interacting with the VA online as good as the customer would get when they interact with a private sector company like a bank or insurance company or shopping.”
“The big focus for us this year is uniting all of those things into one really easy-to-get-to place,” he said. “The Vets.gov platform is the first step of that. And over the next year we’re really hoping to take the principles that we’ve learned by building this new modern platform and merging that in with the full experience of the VA. So providing basically a very simple way to get from the VA homepage to the top tasks that veterans come to the VA for, along with a clear call to action to login where you can get that personalized experience.”
Worthington highlighted a handful of those recent digital developments, like redesigning the MyHealth eVet portal — which veterans can use to refill prescriptions and keep track of their appointments — and creating a integrated but secure login experience across VA’s various services. “We’ve made it possible for the first time for our 4 million patient portal account holders to use that patient portal account to login to their benefits information,” he said.
None of these initiatives move the ball forward much on their own. Like the new program called Vet Text, which is simply a service for text-message appointment reminders. “This is not rocket science —industry has started to move in this direction for several years,” he said. But they play into VA’s larger vision of providing a modern user experience for veterans.
“I’m hopeful that by this time next year, visiting the VA homepage is going to look a lot more like visiting USAA’s homepage or Bank of America’s, where it’s very customer-focused with clear calls to action that will hopefully expose all the different services that VA offers online,” Worthington said.
However, the difficulty, he said, has been finding talented designers and engineers who want to work on the VA’s difficult challenges. “The problems that industry has focused on solving so far tend to be the easy problems in life,” Worthington said, pointing to a pair of dog walking apps that have raised hundreds of millions in venture capital funding and that are being heralded as”the Uber for dog walkers.”
“I just can’t help but think that all that energy, engineering effort, design effort to create a really great experience to book a dog walker — we have huge problems in health care, and it would be great if we could apply some of that same passion and energy to those problems. And that’s really what we’re trying to do here at VA,” Worthington said.