Panel urges open source policy on VistA overhaul

A Veterans Affairs Department advisory panel has issued a report recommending that the VA should commit to a policy of open source software development in overhauling its VistA health information technology system and create a not-for-profit organization to manage the new, open source “ecosystem” that results.

The group, the Industry Advisory Council of the American Council for Technology, Fairfax, Va., which bills itself as a “non-profit, public-private partnership,” was commissioned last year by VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker to recommend a way forward for the VA and its Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, or VistA, clinical IT system.

The council's 101-page report was delivered to the VA on Tuesday, according to the group.

In a news statement, the work group said its objective was “to provide an environment within which VA employees, large prime contractors, healthcare professionals, innovative small companies, healthcare software vendors, and entrepreneurs can all contribute to improving ‘the best care anywhere' being provided by VA today.”

It called for the VA to “commit to and announce as a matter of strategic policy a plan to move to an open source, open standards model for the re-engineering of the next generation of VistA.”

It also said the VA should contract with one or more federally funded research and development corporations to “provide a detailed set of technical recommendations for the development of a VistA 2.0 open source ecosystem.”

Only estimates are available on how much taxpayers have invested in the VA's clinical IT system since work on it first began back in 1977. A team of researchers from the Center for Information Technology Leadership recently released a VA-commissioned report on the possible return on the public investment in IT systems at the VA, with an estimate that the VA has spent $4.07 billion on four key parts of the VistA system and its predecessor, the Decentralized Hospital Computer Program.