For the Veterans Health Administration, providing educational opportunities for nearly 300,000 employees at more than 1,700 care sites required it to build a complex, virtual training environment. Meanwhile, the constant evolution of the healthcare industry means that new information and learning must be available on an almost day-to-day basis. Here, VHA Chief Learning Officer Jim Warner talks about what it takes to maintain and deliver learning on such a massive scale.
Q: The VA has set up a virtual medical center. Can you tell me what the current [training] capabilities of that center are and what the goals for the center will be in the future?
A: Well, one of the challenges that always happens in the learning realm is that there's a huge amount of learning out there, there's a huge amount of knowledge out there and [that can present] a learning challenge.
There are almost 300,000 employees in the Veteran’s Health Administration. And every day, every one of those employees is responsible for solving several dozen problems on their worksite. For the most part, those problems have all been solved by somebody else already. But I don’t have a complex, sufficient knowledge management system to connect each and every one of those employees two dozen times a day with exactly the right answer that has already been developed, validated, and put in place by another employee somewhere in the system.
So, part of the challenge is capturing all the knowledge that's out there and figuring out how do you capture it and how you get this stuff into the grand library of knowledge that makes it shareable. And then the second part is how do you make that knowledge available again at the time and point of need for all those individuals who are working hard? How do you make it available to them as they bump into that particular challenge?
The way our virtual hospital does that is that it looks like a typical massive online game—like your kid's World of Warcraft or Second Life, but it's a VA hospital. So, you go in, you customize your avatar, you walk around the hospital, and everything is exactly where you would expect to find it. If you want to ask a question about diabetes, you go to the diabetes clinic. If you want to know something about one of your prescriptions, you go into the pharmacy and there is a mannequin to answer questions based on the FAQs.
Again, these are individual communities of practice that identify and look in the virtual world just like the workplace in the real world. And it provides a resource to an individual patient, for example, who only gets a limited amount of time with their provider. They can go in there and essentially gain from all of the available resources of the VA.
We also use a search engine that will only look for approved VA DoD medical content. This means that someone who goes into the virtual medical center is going to get an answer from the virtual medical center. It is the answer that you would get if you had gone to one of our authorized sites or if you'd gone to the VA knowledge repository, because those are the only places that this particular vehicle will take you.
And obviously, it has a lot of potential in the future because if you're in there anyway, you have access to all the other services that you could provide for at a hospital. The technology will allow you to click a link and go anyplace, anytime, so we can have folks jump to the pharmacy website or they can jump to other VA services. They can jump to the benefits or whatever is appropriate, so you can link this as a front-end navigation system to anything in the VA.
For more on how the VA is managing learning, be sure to check out the full interview with Jim Warner in the March 2017 issue of The Public Manager.