VA wants money for records

Information technology programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs could get a huge boost if President Bush's fiscal 2006 budget request becomes law.

The VA is one of the winners in this year's budget derby, with a request that is nearly 30 percent more than the fiscal 2005 budget for the department's IT. The administration is seeking $2.1 billion for IT in 2006, up from $1.6 billion the previous year.

One of the biggest increases would go to the department's HealtheVet-VistA program, which will modernize the electronic medical record system for 5 million veterans.

"The biggest increase is that we are beginning to fund HealtheVet," said Robert McFarland, the VA's chief information officer. "That is the single biggest addition to our budget."

For fiscal 2006 -- the first year it would be funded -- the administration is requesting $311 million for the program that will replace the VistA Legacy health care processing system.

VistA Legacy provides critical data that supports the delivery of health care, but it will be retired when HealtheVet-VistA is implemented by rehosting, enhancing and re-engineering current health information applications to process a new technology platform.

McFarland said the changes need to be made in order to "get off the old technology and onto new current technology."

"What we are trying to do is bring it up to date," he said. "If we were to change the application significantly, physicians would come after us with scalpels."

The system will be run on Java and HealtheVet-VistA will be compatible with Microsoft's product suite, according to Robert Kolodner, the VA's acting deputy CIO for health care. As of now, department officials do not plan to use Microsoft products in the HealtheVet implementations on the regional and national servers and databases.

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