VA wants to share aging health IT system

VA wants industry's ideas

The Industry Advisory Council has accepted a challenge from the Veterans Affairs Department. VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker recently asked IAC for help in formulating ideas to spread the department's health information technology system more broadly into the private sector. Now IAC has taken up the charge by forming a working group that Ed Meagher will lead to help develop those ideas.

Meagher is director of strategic health initiatives at SRA International and former deputy assistant secretary for IT at VA.

With industry's involvement, questions are coming to the fore, including whether anyone would want to use VA's aging system — and the answer appears to be yes.

“There is definitely a demand, and it probably would be very competitive with commercial electronic health record systems,” said Lauren Jones, principal analyst at Input, a market research firm in Reston, Va.

The decades-old system, known as Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), needs to be refreshed. But Baker said he believes now is an ideal time to revitalize the system and distribute it more broadly in the private sector because the Obama administration is giving a $20 billion boost to electronic health records, several industry experts say.

The modernization is likely to include updating VistA’s architecture and conforming with OpenVistA, an open-source version of VistA, said Larry Albert, president of the health care sector at Agilex Technologies, who has worked on VistA. Another goal might be making VistA easier to use while also maintaining its clinical richness, he said.

The broader health provider community would greatly benefit from access to an open-source VistA with the Connect open-source interface to the Federal Health Architecture, he said. That would combine an electronic health record with information exchange and system security, Albert said.

“VA ought to explore leveraging the Connect gateway,” he said. “The programs complement each other.”

Whatever the VA does, doctors and hospitals nationwide will be paying attention, said Jim Traficant, vice president of health care solutions at Harris.

“The reach of VistA is broad,” Traficant said. “If you can leverage that, it will accelerate the adoption of electronic health records.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Thu, Nov 12, 2009 Carl Falls Church VA

Scott, they are talking about sharing the software, not the data in the database. It is the same as sharing Microsoft Office software. If you get a copy of Microsoft Word you don't automatically have access to everyone's documents that they made with their copy of the software. You just have the ability to make your own documents, and you can read mine if I decide that I want to share them with you. But I have to make that decision and give you permission. The software is "open source" which means that it is cheap to own, since there are no licensing fees. Right now, a big chunk of medical costs are going into the pockets of software vendors who sell almost the exact same software, but at a huge profit. This is driving up the costs of care. Making free software more widely available is going to help a lot of people.

Fri, Nov 6, 2009

My good God. Have these people gone quite mad? We all know that only 3 things can happen with a VA system, and quite frankly, all three of them are bad. The decades old VisTa system is in need of repair and the VA is attempting to get private medicine to adopt the system! Quarantine the VA, attempt to fix the VA first and only then thinik about "sharing" anything from the VA with the private sector. This is another example of no one in the VA being held accountable. Pass the performance bonuses around! It's November.

Tue, Nov 3, 2009 Scott

This is VERY scary to me. I am a retired soldier and VA Client. I DO NOT want my personal-military health information to be available to any other branch of the government. And, of course, never to the civilian sector. This is VERY VERY scary!

Mon, Nov 2, 2009 Jeremy Engdahl-Johnson Seattle, WA

Federal funding may be encouraging a move toward EHR, but there's more to it than just installing systems. How can healthcare data pooling lead to a better system? More at

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