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‘We Want to Get This Right’: Human-Centered Design Guides Modernization at VA

VA is leveraging human-centered design to modernize for the veteran experience, according to VA tech leaders at the 2023 HIMSS conference in Chicago.

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'We Want to Get This Right': Human-Centered Design Guides Digital Modernization at VA
VA's VEO leadership speak on driving value-based care outcomes at the HIMSS conference in Chicago April 19.

As the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) modernizes digital services, the agency is taking a “digital-first” approach to improve the customer experience and build trust with the veteran, according to VA tech leaders at the 2023 HIMSS conference this week in Chicago.

This calls for a paradigm shift, Deputy Director of Multi-Channel Technology at the Veterans Experience Office (VEO) Trisha Dang said during the conference.

To accomplish this, VA is leveraging human-centered design principles to center digital modernization strategies around the veteran experience.

“We have a duty and obligation to provide the best care possible whether it be the health care experience that we’re trying to improve or the health care environment we’re trying to improve,” VA’s Simulation Based Healthcare Design Testing (SbHDT) Program Lead Devin Harrison said Tuesday.

VA is leveraging digital twins at the front end of its infrastructure modernization, developing simulations and virtual blueprints of health care facilities to test structural layouts before construction begins. Through conducting these simulations, VA aims to minimize the risk of cost overruns and mitigate the risk of schedule delays, which could subsequently prevent the opening of a facility.

“We want to be able to get this right in the beginning so that the veteran doesn’t suffer at the end when the construction is completed,” Harrison said. “VA is moving towards facilities standardization and medical centers and healthcare facilities. We want to be able to use digital twinning to assist with that… Ultimately, we’re trying to bridge the gap between our clinicians and our technicians, so they can both be on the same page and provide a better visual representation of design before it goes on from construction.”

Traditionally, decision-makers have relied and focused on individual, operational metrics to drive strategy, which has hindered veteran trust in VA. VEO’s Executive Director of Multi-Channel Technology Nathan Sanfilippo said customer experience is now moving to the forefront, being equally as important as operational metrics.

“What’s most exciting for me about the state of customer experience – and especially state of customer experience in government – is that it is finally recognized as its own discipline. It’s not an additional duty as assigned. It is an important collaborator, partner, that needs to go sort of hand in hand with every other operational business,” Sanfilippo said during his panel Monday.

When VEO was founded in 2015, the office distributed a veteran survey to measure trust. The initial survey found only 55% of veterans trusted the agency. Through human-centered design principles, AI, ML and other tech tools improving services such as call center operations, VEO raised trust to as high as 80% at some points.

“Customer experience, patient experience, isn’t a sort of a secondary goal,” Sanfilippo said. “[These survey statistics] show that focusing on those moments that matter, that trust does move the needle. that sentiment has really infused in our leadership at all levels, even amongst leaders that don’t necessarily understand customer experience or human centered design with the discipline, understand the importance of that sort of relationship building,” Sanfilippo said.

VA is looking to leverage AI and machine learning to draw insights from the veteran experience and develop data dashboards, according to VA Implementation Lead for Enterprise Measurement and Design Daniel Ostrow. These tech tools enable VA to get actionable data faster and analyze emerging trends to ultimately improve the veteran’s experience.

“To bring all that data together, to see what the veteran is going through, and looking at those pain points, we’re able to provide very high-level dashboards for senior leadership to look at across the enterprise,” Ostrow said. “Then using AI… [we’re able to] do a corollary analysis to see what other things are driving trust… We also have dashboards that we can drill down to individual service lines.”

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