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VA Seeks To Modernize VistA EHR System

The department plans to use open-source technologies to help refurbish its massive, decades-old system for electronic health records.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is seeking expert advice as it takes the first steps to update its massive, decades-old electronic health records (EHR) system.

The department -- which has taken a series of actions in the last year and a half to reform its IT operations -- said it will use an open-source software development model to modernize VistA (Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture), according to a request for proposals posted on

VistA is a collection of about 100 integrated software modules for managing health records that has been in place since the 1970s, and comprises all of the hospital systems at various VA medical centers.

VistA has served the VA well over the years and is generally regarded as a highly successful system. It's one of the most widely used EHRs in the world; nearly half of all U.S. hospitals boasting full EHR implementations are VA hospitals that use VistA.

The VA has chosen open source as the means for modernizing the system for a number of reasons, according to the RFP. The department hopes to achieve greater innovation and breadth of function; improve the interoperability among VistA modules and with other systems; provide more rapid customization and better security; and improve its overall quality and robustness, according to the RFP.

By infusing VistA with these new features, the department also hopes to set a good example and promote interoperability and more use of EHR systems in both the public and private sector, it said.

To accomplish the job, the VA is seeking two open-source experts with "extensive experience" to define a governance system for sharing the code used to modernize VistA, according to the RFP. It's also seeking someone with experience in federal software acquisition, as well as a business analyst.

The VA has enacted broad IT changes and reforms since current CIO Roger Baker took over last May. Among other things, it's developed an IT accountability program that's saved millions in previously wasted IT costs and started reporting information about data breaches online to keep the department itself accountable for data security.

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