VA and industry join to develop health record strategy

Digital health record system for veterans may become more widespread

The Veterans Affiars Department has asked the Industry Advisory Council  to help decide whether the department's legacy health information technology system, known as VistA, is suitable for more widespread use in private health care facilities. 

VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker wants guidance on how to modernize the architecture for VistA with the goal of possibly deploying it to a wider community. The VA hasn't decided whether to proceed with such a deployment.

IAC, in response, has formed a new working group to be chaired by Ed Meagher, former deputy assistant secretary for information technology at the VA and currently director of strategic health initiatives at SRA International Corp.

"We are tasked with producing substantive recommendations on ways to modernize a system that works very well, but is written in software code that is outdated and difficult to maintain. A new and more open approach would enable various sectors of the health care industry to leverage the significant investment the government has already made in VistA," Meagher said.

VistA provides each military veteran with a digital medical record. The VA began developing and managing the system 25 years ago and uses it at its 153 hospitals and 768 outpatient clinics. The Indian Health Service also uses VistA.

The task force will not be involved in deciding whether VA should deploy the system more broadly; that is beyond its purview, according to IAC. It will consider whether any wider deployment would best be performed with open-source code, cloud computing or some other business model, and will try to determine the effects of deploying VistA on private industry, the health care community and other key groups.

The workgroup also is considering an appropriate strategy for modernizing VistA and transitioning it to a more current and innovative architecture, whether VistA should be established as a national standard and what organizational and management structure should be developed.

The VA previously has considered sharing its VistA code with private industry. The VA also is collaborating with the Defense Department to develop a joint Lifetime Virtual Electronic Record for military members and veterans.

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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