DISA data centers to play host to VA-DoD health records system

Thursday - 3/8/2012, 8:56pm EST

Roger Baker, CIO, VA

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The Defense Information Systems Agency, which manages several IT functions for the federal government and the military services, will play a key role in the integration of health records between the Veterans Affairs Department and the Defense Department.

VA announced in January plans to to move electronic health records under its Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) to DISA's data centers

VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker joined In Depth with Francis Rose to discuss the EHR migration to DISA.

"We decided, as we looked at having joint electronic health records with the DoD, that a logical move would be to co-locate the systems — the DoD and the VA systems — in the DISA decks," Baker said.

VA's existing push to consolidate its own data centers made moving the VistA system to DISA "a pretty easy and straightforward decision for us," Baker added.

The department began working on the transition as early as last summer. The first actual move will happen this spring, when the agency migrates a system at one of its hospitals to DISA. "That'll be the start of the official move," Baker said.

The goal is to eventually move 72 such systems to DISA.

Baker said the attention paid to the issue by senior leaders at both agencies, including VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his predecessor Robert Gates, has been the key to the EHR success.

"If you approach the issue with the only possible answer (being) 'yes' and we have to figure out how we define 'yes' — which was exactly what the secretaries told us — then you come to resolutions that actually work," Baker said.

Even though VA announced last month it had terminated a $102 million contract crucial to the joint EHR system, the agency indicated the actual transition to DISA data centers would be unaffected.

Baker also discussed a recent request-for-information the agency released for software alternatives to Microsoft's Office and Outlook programs.

VA has about 360,000 desktops and some 17,000 servers running Microsoft products, Baker said, adding that the agency has been a long-time customer of the software giant and has a "great relationship."

"That said, our job is to make certain that we're using the best tools at any point in time, and that we're getting the best deal for the taxpayers as we serve veterans," he said. "So, we're going to go out and ask a lot of questions."

(Click LISTEN to hear the full interview, including an update on VA's pilot project involving iPads.)

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