In Peter Levin's push to move the VA toward a “veteran-centric use model,“ he has also focused on the Veterans Benefit Management System (VBMS), which aims to break the backlog in benefits delivery. “It's a VistA-like project,“ says Levin, “where we are, in a thoughtful, deliberate way, moving away from the enterprise systems that have exceeded original design capabilities.“ The first step in implementation is the newly-finished Virtual Regional Office “” a “new way of thinking inside government,“ says Levin, “where you spend a lot of time upfront creating the specifications.“ The VRO has led to the creation of a dashboard, a prototype for how the claims assembly, adjudication, and payment process will work within existing systems and, down the line, within VBMS.
Recently, the VA also scored high marks for its VA Information Technology Dashboard, part of the Obama Administration's open government initiative. The work continues, on this and other fronts. “We're going to continue to do those layouts, things like our hospital quality data, which has gotten a lot of attention, as well as the things we should have been doing for a long time, and the things that we can do without an abrupt shock to the system,“ says Levin.
Other emerging technologies
Ever since Levin was tapped VA CTO, he's visited many of the VA's 57 regional benefits offices. Throughout, Levin has noticed a passionate, dedicated staff who just happen to lack one thing: up-to-date tools. “These are people who want to do the right thing,“ says Levin, who's been tracking of technological tools to move forward.
“A lot of the idea management technology has really caught my eye,“ says Levin. Toward that end, Levin has helped lead the VA Innovation Initiative, a crowd-sourcing platform that, most recently, solicited ideas from VA employees on reducing claims processing time. The next round of idea solicitation is now at-hand. “We're in the middle of one right now for healthcare informatics,“ says Levin. “Relatively soon,“ he adds, “we'll be talking about a new initiative that includes our private sector partners in an innovative and impactful way to the agency.“
Levin is also helping move the VA toward consolidated data infrastructure. “Like many government agencies, the VA is in dire need of CDI,“ says Levin. Underpinning that vision is a technological shift from proprietary and customized platforms to open architecture standards-based systems. “That may sound a little bit scary to some of our vendors who often depend on getting contracts [in which] they hold not just the VA but any federal partner, a captive customer “¦ they're going to need to engage with us and, certainly, rethink their business models,“ says Levin. That said, opportunities for new ideas will grow. “We're going to be able to throw the door open to contractors, large and small “” and to anyone who thinks they may have a good idea “” on ways to expand the features and capabilities [of current VA platforms],“ says Levin.
The cloud will also be leveraged. “You're going to see the healthcare delivery system become more reliable and convenient,“ says Levin. “This,“ he adds, “will, in part, be due to the significant investment that we're making in our hardware infrastructure and our software environment in the cloud-based applications that we're going to integrate into the enterprise.“
Every time Peter Levin sets foot in a VA hospital, he's reminded of a larger mission. “Those moments are always a bracing reminder that the things we do in administration matter to the lives of real people,“ says Levin. “If something that I can do contributes, in a very small way to the patient's comfort, health, or attitude, I'm good for a week,“ he adds.
Backed by that mission, Levin is confident the VA will continue to reach greater efficiency. That progress will be accompanied a culture change “” one that's “more authentically advocating,“ as he puts it. “You're going to see continuing evidence of [those strides] in terms of transparency, accountability and quality,“ says Levin. “That is only going to get better over the next 12 months.“
UP CLOSE: “¨“¨VA CTO Peter Levin
Most admire in IT: Roger Baker, VA CIO, and Jim Hogan, former CTO of Cadence Design Systems. “He was instrumental in guiding me through the early stages of my job and really, the early stages of my career,“ says Levin.
What he's reading: Joseph Stilglitz's Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy
Favorite tech gadget: The iPod. “I'm a podcast junkie,“ says Levin.
Hobbies: Vegetable gardening