MUMPS to be retained for VA VistA system -- for now

Top Veterans Affairs IT official confirms Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System computer language will run VA's medical record system

MUMPS is here to stay as the computer language for the Veterans Affairs Department’s electronic health record system — at least for the immediate future, said Roger Baker, VA's assistant secretary for information and technology.

Addressing a longstanding debate, Baker said on Aug. 26 he favors preserving the Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System computer language for the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) while officials pursue efforts to modernize VistA.

VistA was developed more than two decades ago in the MUMPS programming language and has since been expanded to cover millions of lines of computer code. MUMPS will remain at the core of VistA even as VA officials consider opportunities to modernize VistA through an open-source software development project, Baker told Federal Computer Week in an e-mailed statement.

“Maybe it’s because I have a background in computer languages, but I just don’t think MUMPS is much of an issue related to the open-source VistA discussion,” Baker said.

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“There are over 15 million lines of MUMPS code in VistA, so I just don’t see us deciding to recode all of that in another language right away,” he added.

VA officials have been concerned about how well modules written in other computer languages would interface with MUMPS code, but Baker said those concerns have been resolved.

“Lots of folks have weighed in to assure me that it is not a significant issue,” he said. “So I would expect an open-source VistA system to evolve over time as people choose the language they prefer to write new functionality.”

VA has been pursuing options for modernizing VistA for more than a year. Baker asked an Industry Advisory Council working group to offer advice, and the group recommended in May that VA use an open-source development program to update VistA.

Separately, industry members have offered strong opinions about whether MUMPS should be retained as the core of VistA. Ed Meagher, chairman of the IAC VistA Modernization Working Group, said he believed MUMPS was outdated and should be replaced. Other industry members favor preserving MUMPS because they say it is a stable and effective language. However, the working group officially recommended that a federal lab evaluate the options for replacing MUMPS.

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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