VA investigates VistA EHR open source


A few months after being urged to embrace open source for its electronic health record system by an industry group, the Veterans Affairs Department says it's investigating the possibility.

The department released a request for information on August 11 soliciting white papers on the viability of open source software as a component of the VistA EHR architecture.

The VA's current system, the VA Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, known as VistA, was developed in the 1980s with the now near-obsolete programing language MUMPS and is difficult to maintain and upgrade. The department has known for years now that VistA requires replacement but an effort to develop a modernized architecture framework for a new system has been bogged down. Some modernization components have been suspended as part of a VA-wide re-evaluation of IT programs.

VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker reportedly called the industry's group earlier recommendations "good advice" during a recent press call, adding that they are "being incorporated into our thought processes." The recommendations came from the Fairfax, Va.-based Industry Advisory Council.

The RFI recognizes pros and cons with open source adoption. Open source's attractive qualities include greater innovation caused by collaboration with the open source community, improvements in capabilities, and broader proliferation of common EHR software, the RFI states.

But, adoption of open source also requires "a distinct and strong appreciation" for configuration management, intellectual property sensitivities, robust governance of open source code changes to ensure stability, and "the absolute necessity for certification, validation and review of coed prior to release," the RFI states.

Responses to the RFI are due by 1 p.m. on August 25.

For more:
- go to the VA open source RFI
- download the May 2010 IAC open source recommendations report (.pdf)

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