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VA Advances Plans For Open Source EHR System

The Department of Veterans Affairs has released a draft request for proposals to help transform its VistA electronic health record system.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has released a draft request for proposals to develop an electronic health record (EHR) system based on open source technology.

According to the presolicitation notice, dated March 31, VA is seeking to establish a custodial agent to help transform the Veterans Integrated System Technology Architecture, or VistA -- the EHR system used at 153 major VA hospitals and more than 800 community-based outpatient clinics across the United States. The custodial agent will facilitate the establishment and operations of an open source software development ecosystem for the EHR, and will define the relationship between and interactions among developers, users, vendors, and service providers.

VistA forms the basis of the Resource and Patient Management System (RPMS), the EHR system used by the Indian Health System, as well as the core technology for more than 50 hospitals globally. A vibrant community outside the VA already uses VistA.

"As we work to ensure that we provide veterans with the best in healthcare, modernization of VistA is absolutely critical," VA secretary Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement Friday. "This move towards open source welcomes private-sector partners to work with us to improve VistA, and is an important part of our strategy to ensure that VA clinicians have the best tools possible, and that veterans receive the best healthcare possible."

VA expects to begin conversion to an open source version of VistA by this summer and welcomes outside organizations' participation in its development, use, and governance. On Feb. 18, VA released a request for information asking about a custodial agent, as well as a draft RFP for custodial services.

"Over the past year, we have followed a deliberative process to examine the implications of open source for VistA, and we are convinced that this is the best approach for VA, veterans, and taxpayers," Roger Baker, VA assistant secretary for information and technology, said in a statement. "We also want to ensure that vendors of proprietary products can easily and confidently integrate their products with VistA to make them available for VA to purchase and use in our facilities."

VA CTO Peter Levin, who helped lead the open source initiative, said, "this is a terrific example of what the administration means by open government: transparent, collaborative, and truly participatory. This is a historic moment for healthcare informatics. By moving towards standards-based systems that incorporate health records and the best that industry and government can offer, VA will remain at the vanguard of electronic health care delivery."

Hundreds of companies, organizations, government agencies, universities, Congressional stakeholders, and individuals advised VA's path towards open source with published studies, RFI responses, meetings, or individual comments.

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