Ginger Price | 'I can give my life'

GCN IT Leadership Awards 2007 | Price leads an effort to improve veterans' health care

Career highlights

1982-85: Worked on the Decentralized Hospital Computer Program, a 'once-in-a-lifetime experience. We installed DHCP in 174 hospitals within an 18-month period,' Price said. DHCP eventually evolved into the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture.

1985-86: Started a 100-person office automation pilot, the first of its kind in the Veterans Health Administration.

1987-88: Served as director of acceptance testing at Baxter Health Care during the Defense Department's Composite Hospital Computer System acquisition. 'I learned so much from that, even though Baxter didn't win' the CHCS contract.

1998: Defined requirements for and built an automated investment strategy system, working with VHA's chief information officer. The system allowed an organization to define information technology portfolios.

2002: Began work on MyHealtheVet, 'the absolute crown jewel in my career.'

Ginger Price

Rick Steele

Ginger Price, fresh out of graduate school, was walking around Washington one afternoon in 1971, admiring the flowering trees and stone monuments. She stopped to read a quote by Abraham Lincoln inscribed on the cornerstone of a building at 810 Vermont Ave., NW: 'To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.'

Price thought to herself, 'I can give my life to that.' She entered the Veterans Affairs Department building 'then named the Veterans Administration ' and asked if they had any openings. The officials did, and the VA controller's office made her an offer.

Now, 36 years later, Price is still working to care for veterans and their families as director of MyHealtheVet, a Web portal that enables veterans to access a wide array of health care resources. Among other features, the site at www.myhealth.va.gov allows veterans to track specific health issues such as blood sugar, pain management and medications.

The goal of MyHealtheVet is, simply, better health care for veterans.
For example, a veteran's son recently wrote to Price to tell her that MyHealtheVet helped save his father's life. He used the self-entered information vitals capability on the portal to track his father's blood pressure throughout the day. He took the information to his father's doctor and discovered that some of his father's health problems were because of an incorrect dosage of medication. By making a few changes, the family managed to lower the veteran's blood pressure and discontinued administering some medication.

Price began working on MyHealtheVet in 2002, when VA decided to make the test a national system. The national portal was released on Veterans Day 2003. MyHealtheVet has 390,937 registered account holders. During the past 18 months, registered MyHealtheVet users received more than 2 million online prescription refills.

Then at a VA symposium in 2003, Price heard Jonathan Perlin, VA's undersecretary for health, speak on how MyHealtheVet would transform the way VA delivers health care.

Price got goose bumps. She had a vision of what a personal health record would look like, and what sort of effort would be needed to achieve this transformation in health care delivery. 'We would have to prepare people for being transformed,' she said. 'At some point, this was going to be the bedrock for patient/clinician relationships, and we were going to have to have frameworks to measure these things.'

Veterans are not shy about making their needs known, Price said. 'They are quick to tell us how they are using MyHealtheVet and how we can make it better,' she said.

'I am an old guy, but I am so happy you have made our Veterans health site so easy to use,' one veteran wrote.

Team building

As director of MyHealtheVet, Price supervises about 100 people ' government employees and contractors. She describes her leadership style as 'team-based, passionate, persistent and results-oriented. With a little broken-field running thrown in for good measure.'

To keep the focus on veterans, Price took a group of the MyHealtheVet contractors to a VA hospital for a holiday party in December, 'so they would know who they were serving,' she said.

A Washington-area native, Price attended Lynchburg College, Mississippi College, High Point College, Niagara University and American University ' 'I went to any place that would give me a scholarship,' she said. Price also holds a master's degree in literary criticism. 'My training in drama has prepared me more for this job more than anything else I can think of.'

People who worked with Price on MyHealtheVet talk about her enthusiasm for the project.

Craig Luigart, chief information officer of the Veterans Health Administration, described how Price handled an incident where it appeared that MyHealtheVet wasn't going to meet a deadline. It became clear that some of the functions of the new version were not going to be ready by the scheduled release date. 'Instead of de-scoping the application, which was doable, she took the heat for missing the date ' and all that a decision like that implies ' and pressed for the completion of the application that the vet needed,' Luigart said.

The release came out later than planned, but it had the best possible quality and functionality, he said.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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