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Veterans Agency to Deploy Open Source Electronic Health Records

The Veterans Affairs Department, which operates one of the largest medical systems in the world, is moving ahead with plans to modernize its electronic health-records using open-source software.

The agency today issued a draft request for a contractor to build and manage a network of software developers to upgrade the 28-year-old Veterans Integrated System Technology Architecture, or Vista, according to a Veterans Affairs news release.

U.S. hospitals and medical practices are preparing to digitize their health records, often using commercial products. The 2009 economic stimulus package, signed by President Barack Obama, included $30 billion to promote the adoption of electronic health records.

The Veterans Affairs Department plans to start converting to a new open-source Vista this summer and expects that other organizations will help develop, use and manage the system, according to the release. Open-source software is publicly available and may be shared with other organizations at no charge.

“Vista is an important asset for VA, and for the nation,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, in a statement. He said the move toward open source will help “ensure that VA clinicians have the best tools possible.”

Roger Baker, Veterans Affairs assistant secretary for information and technology, said the agency also wants to “ensure that vendors of proprietary products can easily and confidently integrate their products” with Vista so the agency can purchase and use them in its facilities.

Used Globally

The department’s electronic health-records system is used in 153 VA hospitals and more than 800 outpatient clinics in the U.S. It also is used by the Indian Health Service and more than 50 other hospitals globally, the agency said.

Shinseki told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee yesterday that he and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had agreed to establish a “joint common platform” for electronic health records. The two officials are due to meet again in early May, he said.

Shinseki said the Defense Department understands the capabilities of its existing electronic health records system, known as Ahlta, “are not going to be what they need in the future, so they’re looking for a new direction.”

The two agencies have faced criticism for running separate electronic health record networks that serve an overlapping population of U.S. service members and veterans.

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