Creating a COVID-19 dashboard to help the VA prioritize their response

When the COVID-19 pandemic became more serious in early 2020, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) faced the challenge of responding quickly and effectively to help protect the people they serve, including Veterans, their family members, and caregivers.

Part of that response included using digital tools to allow Veterans to get the help they needed and avoid unnecessary overcrowding and COVID spread in VA medical centers.

To mitigate the pandemic’s impact on Veterans, the VA needed to ensure that time and resources were invested early in the tools and services that would have the most impact. VA leaders needed timely and accurate data on how Veterans were using VA services to help support those investment decisions.

The COVID-19 digital response dashboard

With support from Ad Hoc and our prime contractor Oddball and our team partner Empirical Path, the VA quickly built a COVID-19 digital reponse dashboard to help measure the trajectory and success of their COVID-19 digital services.

By expanding on our existing work building data visualization dashboards for VA.gov applications, Ad Hoc was able to prototype a COVID dashboard in one week. The team gathered multiple data sources that had previously been isolated and inaccessible, such as call center feedback and website usage, into a new dashboard that presented a single, simple way for the VA COVID-19 Joint Task Force to view tool and service usage and feedback in one place.

In the early months of the pandemic, the situation was evolving rapidly and the VA was seeing increased demand for their digital services. The dashboard became a critical resource to show how different services worked together and to increase coordination and transparency between COVID-related product lines.

Measuring impact

Using data from VA Call Centers and VA.gov’s traffic analytics, the dashboard was able to help the VA answer questions like:

  • How are Veterans contacting the VA about COVID-related issues?
  • What COVID-19 topics are Veterans looking for?
  • How are Veterans using COVID-19 digital tools?
  • What are Veterans talking about?

For example, data analysis showed that in April and May 2020, many Veterans were looking for information on debt, copays, and other financial topics. Since May, some of that traffic has shifted to information about healthcare, appointments, and prescriptions. Insights like this can help VA.gov staff adjust how content is presented on VA websites to ensure Veterans are finding the information they need most. This data analysis can also help teams prioritize resources so they’re investing in the most high-impact projects for Veterans.

The dashboard also included sentiment analysis data, which helped VA teams go beyond the traffic numbers to better understand the hardships Veterans were experiencing. The VA has used the dashboard to inform its weekly digital response report sent to other federal agencies and tailor its response to the needs of Veterans.

What’s next

We’re continuously iterating and evolving the dashboard so that the VA has the best data to inform their decisions and keep up with the rapidly changing circumstances of the pandemic. For example, Ad Hoc’s team, led by prime contractor Oddball, helped the VA with data warehousing efforts that improved and increased the automation and accuracy of our current data, the availability of data sources and metrics, and the relationality of those data sources. This gives the VA better confidence in the data they’re using to make decisions and a wider field of view to make sure they have everything they need to create the best strategy for Veterans.

As VA facilities open up, we’re also able to see how often Veterans use the VA’s screener tool and help ensure that facilities are opening safely. This helps the VA better understand the Veteran demand for vaccinations and provide information rapidly and where it’s needed most.

Oddball and Ad Hoc’s analytics work during the COVID-19 pandemic helped us support VA’s data-informed culture so that the VA can better serve Veterans during a time of crisis, and we look forward to using this approach to help the VA improve all of its digital products.

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