VistA-Office is released -- sort of

After months of promising that it would make federal electronic health records (EHRs) software available to physicians as free downloads, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is instead making an evaluation version of the software available through vendors.

CMS announced yesterday that it was releasing VistA-Office, a version of the EHR software developed by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and used throughout veterans hospitals, “to allow for the evaluation of VistA-Office…in physician offices, with particular attention to whether and how physician offices can implement the software effectively.”

The limited release also will allow for future modification of the software as needed to conform to national interoperability standards that are yet to be determined, the CMS announcement states. VistA-Office also will go through the certification process that a Department of Health and Human Services contractor will develop later this year.

Four vendors have been authorized to install the software. They are located in Florida, Texas and California.

CMS’ announcement emphasizes that the software is not free. Users must pay licensing fees for the database program, Cache from InterSystems, and for Current Procedural Terminology codes. In addition, vendors will charge for installation, support and maintenance services.

One of the vendors, Don Meehan of Document Storage Systems in Juno Beach, Fla., said his company will install the system in a 10-physician obstetrics and gynecology practice in Washington, D.C., in the next month.

Meehan, formerly the chief information officer for a VHA regional network, said the Washington, D.C., installation is expected to be a model for others to follow.

Although VistA-Office was installed at some test sites, he said, the software was frequently revised and the sites “were more like alpha sites.” Most of the participating doctors became frustrated and declined to use the system, Meehan said.

Document Storage Systems, whose employees have experience with VHA’s software, is doing the Washington, D.C., installation at no charge, but expects to charge doctors for its services, he said.

Meehan said his company would do either a turnkey installation in which it would configure the system as needed, install it on the office network, train users and provide support, or it would offer an application service provider model in which VistA-Office would be hosted at Document Storage Systems.

The turnkey installation would be more expensive and better suited to larger medical offices, he said.

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