More than a view in a vista

A model patient records system

To the ordinary person, a vista is an unbelievable view, but to companies and individuals involved with open-source electronic health record (EHR) software, vista means an unbelievable mess.

That’s because last week Microsoft decided to name its new release of Office software Vista, which is due out in the second half of 2006. Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) plans to release free electronic health record software next week for use in doctor’s offices; it’s called VistA-Office.

VistA-Office is based on EHR software the Department of Veterans Affairs developed in the 1980s and renamed Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) in 1996.

CMS’ VistA-Office software will be available as a free download from the VA’s Web site. In addition to CMS, other federal and private companies and organizations have based their software on the VA’s VistA. Those organizations include the Pacific Telehealth and Technology Hui in Hawaii, backed by the VA and the Defense Department, and WorldVistA, a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 to promote the use of the open-source VistA software.

The VistA Software Alliance (VSA) was formed last November to promote the commercial use of EHR software based on the open-source VistA. Its member companies include Document Storage Systems, Hewlett-Packard, InterSystems, Medsphere Systems, Oleen Healthcare Information Management and Perot Systems.

Barbara Boykin, VSA’s chairwoman, said she was disappointed that Microsoft decided to name its new software Vista, considering the long use of the name VistA to denote EHR software. She added that Microsoft “could not have done this at a worse time,” just before CMS’ release of VistA-Office next week.

"I hope [the new Microsoft Vista software] does not distract from what CMS is doing” with VistA-Office, Boykin said. She added that the alliance is evaluating its legal position on Microsoft’s use of the word Vista in connection with software. The alliance also needs to consider what action Microsoft might take against it over the name, Boykin said.

Roger Maduro, an OpenVistA consultant, said he was “stupefied” that Microsoft chose to use the name Vista, because the company has its own search engine, which would have identified the conflicts inherent in the use of the Vista name.

Maduro added that Microsoft is well aware of the use of VistA software in the health care field. He said he met with Gurujeet Khalsa, Microsoft’s federal health care architect, at a conference in Nashville, Tenn., last February. Maduro said that among the topics he discussed with Khalsa was the possibility of Microsoft joining VSA.

Joseph Dal Molin, a WorldVistA director, took a more upbeat approach. He said Microsoft’s use of the word Vista will draw more attention to the release of VistA-Office next week.

A CMS spokesman said he had been told that the VA had trademarked VistA with a big A at the end. The VA has not returned calls or e-mails from Federal Computer Week asking the agency to confirm its trademark.

On its Vista Web page, Microsoft does not identify its software with a registered trademark, an R inside a circle, but instead uses only an uppercase TM. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office said anyone can append TM to any word they want, but it is not the same as a registration.

Software the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center created for human genome research causes further confusion over the name Vista. The center calls its software VISTA.

Neither Microsoft nor the Berkeley laboratory responded to FCW's queries by deadline.

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