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How the VA VistA system is like a fighter jet

Comparing the Veterans Affairs Department’s evolution of health IT record systems to fighter jets got a little complicated at the Bethesda chapter of AFCEA’s Health IT Day today.

Dr. Steve Ondra, senior policy adviser for health affairs at the VA, was talking about the development and modernization of legacy electronic health record systems at the department, including VistA, and how those systems eventually will synchronize with new record programs, such as the VA/Defense Department Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record.

 He compared the evolution of VistA to the VLER, as being comparable to the evolution of World War II-era planes into modern fighter jets. The comparison became more complex as it went along.

To illustrate his point, Ondra said the VA started out with electronic record systems comparable to a P-51 Mustang, a World War II-era fighter plane, and to a Sabre Jet, which dates from the Korean War.

“The Sabre is a good jet, but a little dated,” Ondra said, apparently still talking about the VA's legacy systems such as VistA.

The next step, which includes creating the VLER, aims to be upgrade the legacy VA systems to make them comparable to an F-15 or F-22 modern fighter jet, Ondra added. He did not explain further.

Julie Boughn, chief information officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, talked about the need for health IT to support health care improvements while also preserving security of the data.

Boughn, who has been at CMS since 2000, said she has not always been impressed by government briefings on data security.

“I was driving here and heard a segment on National Public Radio on cybersecurity. It was better than some of the top secret briefings I’ve heard,” Boughn said.

Posted by Alice Lipowicz on Apr 06, 2010 at 12:10 PM


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