VA's VistA e-health record system moves to open source

Friday - 4/1/2011, 2:03pm EDT

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

The Department of Veterans Affairs is moving its electronic health record system to the open source community.

VA will make available the source code of its Veterans Integrated System Technology Architecture or VistA system, allowing greater innovation from both public and private sector participants.

VA released a draft request for proposal on Friday seeking a "custodial agent" to oversee VistA's open source community.

"This is a terrific example of what the administration means by open government: transparency, collaborative and truly participatory. This is a historic moment for health care informatics," said Peter Lavin, VA's chief technology officer, in a statement.

The VistA system is used in 153 VA hospitals and more than 800 community-based outpatient clinics nationwide. It also forms the basis of electronic health record systems used by the Indian Health System and more than 50 hospitals internationally, according to a VA release.

Late last year, VA's Chief Information Officer Roger Baker said he was leading an effort within the department to move the system to open source.

"There is a lot of private sector work going on around electronic health records that we would like to incorporate into VistA, and that will be a lot easier down that open source path," Baker said.

In a May 2010 report, ACT-IAC recommended moving VistA to open source as a way to modernize the system.

VistA has proven to be a "huge success story" as an e-health record system, said James Herbsleb, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, in a November 2010 interview with Federal News Radio.

He said a move to open source could provide business opportunities for technology companies that can build on the VistA platform.

"VistA has the potential to be much larger and much more interconnected than any ecosystem we have now," Herbsleb said.