A $624 million contract for Epic Systems Corp. and a Lockheed subsidiary to produce an online medical appointment scheduling program for the nation’s military veterans is apparently back in business after being on hold for nearly a year, published reports say.

The Veterans Administration is moving forward with the Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS), being developed by Verona-based Epic and Systems Made Simple, an official told the House Committee on Veterans Affairs at a hearing in February.

A pilot project is underway and results will be available in 18 months, Jennifer Lee, Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy and Services, told committee members, according to an article in Healthcare Informatics.

The test is being conducted in Boise, Idaho, according to FCW, a publication for federal technology executives. At the same time, though, the VA also will continue work on updating its own, home-grown scheduling software, the FCW article said.

Epic officials were not available to comment on the reports.

Epic — one of the nation’s largest electronic health records developers — and Systems Made Simple won the five-year, multimillion-dollar contract in August 2015. But last April, the Veterans Health Administration decided to shelve that agreement and focus on fixing its own system at a fraction of the cost, $6.4 million.

The decision drew some big concerns at the time from members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Subcommittee chairman Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, called it “a dramatic about-face,” according to an April 2016 article by Modern Healthcare.

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-New Hampshire, said the VA already had spent $27.5 million toward a MASS pilot project, and previous efforts to update its home-grown software were unsuccessful.

“This seems like déjà vu all over again to me,” Kuster said, the Modern Healthcare story said.

The Epic-Lockheed contract came after a 2014 scandal in which VA employees falsified records on the wait times veterans endured before they could see a doctor. The wait was so long, at least several dozen veterans died before they could get care, investigations found.

Now that Epic’s MASS project apparently is back in gear, the Verona company says it is working with Nuance Communications, of Burlington, Massachusetts, to include innovations aimed at disabled veterans.

A statement from Nuance in February said its artificial intelligence technology, combined with Epic’s electronic health records system, will provide a hands-free virtual assistant for veterans with disabilities.

“We are very proud of our work with Nuance,” Epic president Carl Dvorak said in the statement. “By going above and beyond what is required … Epic is focused on delivering a completely new experience to those veterans that have suffered physical disabilities due to their service to our country.”

 

Read the full article from the Wisconsin State Journal here.