Microsoft nabs $116M VA software pact

Microsoft Corp. this month began supplying the Department of Veterans Affairs with a suite of software products that the agency will use to store and move electronic patient records throughout its sprawling medical organ-ization and to other federal agencies and private medical facilities.

Under a $116 million contract awarded June 30, Microsoft has begun to supply the VA with its suite of office applications, including Excel, Exchange, Access, Word, Internet Explorer, Internet Information Server and PowerPoint, covering 200,000 desktops and 6,000 servers over the next four years. The order was placed through the VA's Procurement of Computer Hardware and Software (PCHS) contract with Digital Equipment Corp., which is now part of Compaq Computer Corp., and Vanstar Government Systems, a division of Vanstar Corp.

Varying Applications

VA divisions and offices as well as the Defense Department and outside hospitals use different applications to record data, making it difficult and time-consuming to share medical records and administrative information internally and externally.

The Microsoft order "allows us to have a standard and to move forward based on those standards," said Craig Niedermeier, director of contract administration for veterans health at the office of the Veterans Health Administration's chief information officer.

By standardizing on a common suite of products for its workstations agencywide, the VA, which offers health care services to about 70 million veterans and their family members, is positioning itself to roll out a multibillion-dollar, computer-based patient records program that will allow patient records to be more quickly and easily accessed throughout the department and other organizations with which the VA communicates, including the DOD and private hospitals.

The goal of the massive Government Computer-based Patient Record, which the VA and DOD are developing jointly, is to improve health care by giving VA doctors and medical workers access to patients' medical records.

The G-CPR project, which also involves the Indian Health Service and Louisiana State University, may include a set of applications that use World Wide Web-based technology as a medium for sharing information. The VA expects to award the G-CPR in October.

The task for contractors that will create those applications will become easier now that contractors will know what standard software package the VA will use throughout the agency, according to George Hou, a government account executive with Microsoft.

"People need to know who is building and [planning the architecture of] the solution, what components are out there," Hou said.

Standardizing on Microsoft products also will allow the VA to do away with cumbersome applications that use a line-by-line approach to entering and changing data.

The Microsoft suite of products will give the VA a Windows-based environment that should make data entry and retrieval easier for workers, Niedermeier said.

He said the VA chose Microsoft because the agency already uses many of its products.

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