VA's digital health platform not dependent on VistA

The Department of Veterans Affairs' under secretary for health told a Senate panel on Wednesday that the future of the agency's health IT is not linked to maintaining the home-grown health records system VistA.

Dr. David Shulkin, VHA undersecretary

Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' under secretary for health told a Senate panel on Wednesday that the future of the agency's health IT is not linked to maintaining the home-grown health records system VistA.

The VA is focused on expanding its digital health platform, which is focused on software as a service and cloud-based technology.

"The digital health platform will be a system of systems," Dr. David Shulkin wrote in his June 22 testimony.  "It is not dependent on any particular [electronic health record], and VA can integrate new or existing resources into the system without sacrificing data interoperability. One of the digital health platform's defining features will be system-wide cloud integration, a marked improvement over the more than 130 instances of VistA that we have today."

VA officials argued that they are looking at more of a "strategic approach" to modernize their EHR over the course of the next few years and not just continuing to build on VistA 4, which is scheduled for delivery in 2018.

"To prepare for this new era in connected care, VA is looking beyond the EHR to a digital health platform that can better support veterans throughout the health continuum," Shulkin noted.

Lawmakers have been urging the VA to make up its mind about whether to retain or offload the health record system.

"I am really concerned by the lack of long-term planning and whether the time and money invested will so far be for nothing," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told the witnesses, adding that a commercial decision for Vista should have been "settled years ago."

VA CIO LaVerne Council said though she has a lot of respect for VistA and the work that went into creating the in-house product, it is a "40-year-told product." Council said she is looking at what technology can do to solve health IT problems that was not available when VistA was first coded.

Shulkin stressed in his testimony that the $510 million in IT development funds given to VistA since 2014 will not have gone to waste, "regardless of whether our path forward is to continue with VistA, a shift to a commercial EHR platform as DoD is doing, or some combination of both."

He added, "We are looking at a transition plan that brings VA into a future state of where all of healthcare is going to need to be and that’s this issue of interoperability with community providers, the VA and DOD."

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