a m e r i c a
e-gov e-zine

introduction contact us links kids corner
staff awards what others are saying







Email Me







The Job Page

Government Services

Government Benefits

Federal Payments


Business Services

Public Safety

Criminal Justice

Business Tax Filing







Privacy & Security





Privacy Statement


VA Shares Its Virtual Learning Center with Other Agencies
By Tony Zecca

The Department of Veterans Affairs has produced an online database with shared innovations, best practices, and lessons learned from 173 VA medical centers and 600 clinics. Now VA is sharing this "Virtual Learning Center" web site with employees in other government agencies. Reinventors across government can add their own best practices or get ideas from VA innovations.

Ever had an idea you felt convinced others could benefit from? Problem solving techniques that could offer permanent solutions? Have you ever found yourself stymied by a deadline dropped in your lap today for a problem that needed resolution yesterday? Can't get a straight answer to a simple question?

Dr. Nancy A.Thompson, Associate Director of the Veterans Hospital Administration's Office of Special Projects, may have the answer. She and a design team of over 40 VA employees created the Virtual Learning Center. The design team started project work in August 1997. The VLC Intranet site was activated in December 1997 then launched on to the Internet in June 1999. An idea envisioned four years ago as an Intranet service specific to health care has evolved into a virtual think tank, fluid in concept and without boundary.

What Is a Virtual Learning Center?

What is the Virtual Learning Center? VLC is a living think tank of ideas, solutions and answers accessible from one web site source. It's a "living" think tank because the input comes from you. No single idea becomes static because each idea includes the author's commercial phone and fax number, email address, with additional comment and feedback options. It's simple to forward your own ideas, contact the author, or add to the information resource. Best of all, you maintain ownership of your posted ideas and thoughts!

Meeting the Challenge

VLC produced a web site quantifying shared innovations, best practices, and lessons learned from173 VA medical centers, and 600 clinics. That information became accessible to VA employees via the Intranet to the Veterans Health Administration. This met the challenge issued in 1997 by the Veterans Health Administration Deputy Under Secretary for Health, Dr.Thomas L. Garthwaite.

Taking a step further, in June of 1999 the site expanded to include external customers via the Internet, allowing nationwide and worldwide healthcare organizations access.

Good ideas seem to spawn. The Veterans Benefit Administration and the National Cemetery Administration saw opportunity to better serve their customers. They have joined with VLC offering innovations for best practices. Their accessibility and effort has greatly improved service to their customers as well as cost savings to their agencies.

What Are the Benefits?

Immediate and immeasurable benefit to the VA has been "Patient Safety." It's one of the features posted on the website. It allows the sharing of lessons learned from adverse events, as well as proactive actions aimed at preventing future occurrences. The emphasis has been on root cause analyses, and consequent system redesigns to prevent future reoccurrence. Put into equivalent terms: this system of checks and balances forwarding the advancement of healthcare saves lives.

The range of diversity in subject matter is impressive. Without question there is something for everyone. Problems and solutions found under "New Lessons," offer subjects from "Delayed Adverse Reactions to Contrast Media," "Accompanying Patients with Dementia," "Setting the Stage for Learning," and "Training for Payroll Staff," to name a few. Public Affairs, Management, Staff Training, and of course Health Care -- issues any agency could benefit from.

Let's Get Started! Try This Step-by-Step Site Tour

  • Log on The Virtual Learning Center window appears. Ten options offered are what one would expect, and self-explanatory: i. e. "VA Health Resource,"" What's New,"" Links to other databases," etc. So what makes this web site unique?

  • Select "Browse Lessons" and access 1,171 tested insights ranging from management to health care. Search the database using more than 150 keywords. Once you've selected a lesson, the window opens offering: "title and author," "core message," "peer comments," and "feedback options."

  • Select "Core message," this function is critical to the efficiency of the system. In your search, titles may not accurately reflect what you had in mind. The "Core message" function offers a quick synopsis. If the subject is desired readership, select "show detail." This will take you to the lesson. Add to or comment directly via "peer comments" or "feedback options."

  • Return to the home page and select "Submit Lessons." This is your chance to add to the learning curve! Imagine submitting an idea without forwarding through the chain of command, best yet: you maintain authorship throughout the process.

  • Select "Personalize Your Information" and this brings us to "Personal Profile." This feature notifies you when new innovations of interest to you are posted. Not everyone has time to browse the net to keep current. How many times have you found yourself at a meeting, the only one out of the loop on a cutting edge idea? This is the heart of what makes this system different, certainly innovative. Every Agency could benefit from this concept, drawing upon ideas and making accessible, lessons specific to your Agency's interests and needs.

How Do You Know if the Ideas Work?

Here's the seed of change that makes a difference. How do you disseminate ideas in criteria of value, uniqueness, effectiveness, and originality? Following the example of the Army Medical Directorate Knowledge Management site, VLC will be adding a "Best Practices" designation to outstanding innovations. In addition, each innovation will be rated with a "Five Star-type" system, which will allow users to locate those lessons which excel in innovation, less expensive/cost avoidance, faster services or processes, better services or processed, risk reduction, satisfaction (internal and external). Criteria are currently being developed for each rating factor. Lessons no longer relevant will be archived. You access by achievement!

What If Your Agency Wants Its Own Virtual Learning Center?

If you prefer to help your agency develop your own Virtual Learning Center, VA will help. "If you are developing your own site for sharing informal knowledge," Dr. Thompson said, "we are happy to share our experience with you."

So what are you waiting for?

For More Information

Nancy A. Thompson, PhD, FACHE, is Associate Director of the Veterans Health Administration Office of Special Projects in Washington DC. She is also the Regent for DC for the American Collage of Healthcare Executives. She can be reached at: VHA Office of Special Projects (OSP), 50 Irving St., NW, Washington, DC 20422, Phone (202) 745-2200, Fax (202) 745- 8623, email:

If you have any questions for the VLC Webmaster, she can be reached at Or, questions may be sent via the Feedback button on the bottom of most Virtual Learning Center pages.

About the Author

Anthony J. Zecca is the Public Affairs Coordinator for the United States Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service Puget Sound in Washington State. Currently writing for Access America E-Gov E-Zine, he can be reached at

Access America Online Magazine Partners
Chief Information Officers Council
National Partnership for Reinventing Government
Federal Communicators Network