VA wants to bring innovation to VistA

Wednesday - 11/10/2010, 7:18pm EST

Roger Baker, Chief Information Officer, VA

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Veterans Affairs Department isn't taking advantage of the innovation coming from 50 non-VA hospitals for its Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) program.

So if the technology will not come to VA, VA will come to the technology.

Roger Baker, VA's assistant secretary for information and technology and chief information officer, said he will lead an effort to move VistA into the open source community.

"Anyone can have access to the VistA source code," Baker said. "There are lots of folks who have added new features and new functionalities for VistA outside of the VA that we have not brought back in. It makes sense for VA to participate."

He added, "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's decision to move VistA to open source comes after a working group from IAC/ACT submitted a report on May 4 recommending ten areas where VA could improve the program. The first was to move VistA to an open source platform.

"This report is significant for three reasons," said Andy Robinson, IAC executive vice chairman who oversaw the project on behalf of the IAC Executive Committee in a release. "First, it provides VA with a strategic pathway and an actionable plan for modernizing VistA. Second, it provides VA with a unanimous set of industry recommendations. Third, it demonstrates the value of collaboration between government and industry and the unique value that ACT-IAC provides."

Baker said moving VistA to open source is not something they will do incrementally. Rather, the entire product will be open source and available for others to use and be part of the governance over time.

"The most important thing is for folks not to perceive VA as the sole contributor and sole owner of this public asset," Baker said. "If a large health care organization were to decide they wanted to pick up VistA and utilize it, I want them to know they're going to be part of the governance of where VistA goes in the future, and participate with the VA as a partner for how we can move this forward to our mutual benefit."

Baker said that in addition to the 50 non-VA hospitals using VistA, the Department of Health and Human Services' Indian Health Service has been one of the largest system users in government.

VA could learn a lot from IHS, especially about caring for women. The VA is focused on how to improve health care for veterans who are women, Baker said.

"They've made substantial improvements to VistA that VA could bring back and incorporate," he said. "There is a lot of interest and it's good community building from what I see."

VA also announced earlier this summer that it will spend $10.9 million to improve its VistA. VA plans to upgrade the system to meet HIPAA electronic transaction standards to allow third-party payments. The upgrades must be ready for testing by January and be in production by January 2012.

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