VA drives open-source health records initiative
Agency could spur adoption of e-health systems worldwide
Twenty-year-old software developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs could serve as the low-cost building block of a nationwide electronic health care record (EHR) system President Bush wants officials to deploy within the next decade, according to health management experts.
This open-source software, based on the VA's Veterans Health Information Systems Technology Architecture (Vista), could also become the basis of affordable EHR systems worldwide, said Maury Pepper, a St. Louis-based computer consultant. Pepper serves as chairman of WorldVista, an organization dedicated to making health care technology more affordable worldwide with systems based on Vista.
Officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) want to use Vista to stimulate the adoption of EHR systems by doctors with a new public-domain version of the software, Vista-Office EHR, developed in conjunction with VA officials.
Capt. Cynthia Wark, a Public Health Service nurse who is the acting deputy director of the information systems group at CMS' Office of Clinical Standards and Quality, said agency officials are developing Vista-Office to improve the quality of health care while promoting the adoption of health care information technology by doctors' offices and clinics. Officials are targeting Vista-Office to small medical offices that have one to eight doctors. They have been slow to buy new technology because of its cost. Wark estimated the software needed in a small doctors' office to cost between $10,000 and $20,000.
Vista-Office will provide doctors and clinicians with a number of modules adopted from Vista, including the Computerized Patient Record System, which replaces paper charts. CMS developers are adding new modules, including software for pediatricians and gynecologists and a patient registration system, Wark said.
Mike Ginsburg, project manager for the Vista Office software at the Iowa Foundation for Medical Care, a CMS contractor, said agency officials will begin testing Vista-Office with small clinical practices next month. CMS officials plan to make the software electronically available in July 2005 to the roughly 500,000 U.S. physicians via downloads from CMS' Web site.
Vista-Office is available for free, but when officials release the final version, doctors would have to pay a license fee to use the underlying Caché programming language and database management systems from
InterSystems, based in Cambridge, Mass. VA officials use Caché to run Vista in 172 hospitals and 400 clinics. The language is based on the Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multiprogramming Systems (MUMPS) programming language developed in the late 1960s.
Dr. Stan Saiki Jr., director of the joint Defense Department/VA Pacific Telehealth and Technology Hui (meaning partnership) at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, said this partnership resolved the license fee issue last year with the release of its Hui OpenVista enterprise software.
Instead of using MUMPS Caché, Saiki said, Hui OpenVista runs on open-source MUMPS called Greystone Technology M from the Sanchez Computer Associates division of Fidelity National Financial, in Jacksonville, Fla. The complete Hui OpenVista package runs on the open-source Linux operating system software, which provides users with a complete, free and sophisticated EHR system, Saiki said.
Saiki said Pacific Telehealth has had about 1,000 downloads of Hui Open Vista software package from its Web site and envisions it serving health care facilities worldwide. Pacific Telehealth developers have built an application service provider prototype of Hui Open Vista, Saiki said. The software is housed on central servers, relieving the need to hire an IT staff to maintain an in-house EHR system.
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