VA's Baker: Modernize rather than replace VistA

The Department of Veterans Affairs won't be trying to replace VistA anymore, but instead will be looking for ways to improve the powerful EMR system via open-source collaboration with the private sector.

"Let's be clear, in my view, VA over the last 10 years has tried to replace VistA. I don't think that's possible. It would be like Microsoft trying to replace Windows with not an evolutionary product, but with something brand new, but it has to come out and it has to be better the day it's introduced," VA CIO Roger Baker says in a in-depth interview with FierceGovernmentIT. "That, basically, was the criteria for what VA was trying to do. That program was called HealtheVet. I have stepped VA away from HealtheVet, and what we're now looking at is how do we continue the evolution of VistA.

"It is the best electronic health record system in the United States, at this point, especially if you focus on it from a patient-care standpoint. So, how do we then get back to moving the innovation forward in VistA, and that's really what the whole open-source campaign is all about."

According to Baker, the private sector has innovated plenty since VistA came out, so it only makes sense for the VA to work with private entities, either by participating in an open-source community around VistA or by purchasing third-party components to enhance VistA. "The reason that, I believe we've got to go the open-source route, is that we have two important projects to integrate private sector packages into VistA going on inside the government right now--one is for laboratory and one is for pharmacy. Both of those projects are going on five years, to integrate the private-sector product into VistA because we're doing it the government way," Baker says.

"That is far too long. We need to be able to go out and say, I'm interested in a pharmacy package, in six months I'm going to buy one that I prefer, from all the ones integrated with the open source--let's go. And when an organization like VA says it's going to buy, that could be 200 or 300 million dollars. So, you know generating the private-sector interest in it.

"I just think we're going to move VistA innovation forward much more quickly if we go the open-source route."

In the wide-ranging interview, Baker also discusses the Virtual Lifetime Electronic record and integration with the AHLTA system in use at the Department of Defense.

Click on Best EHR in the US to access Neil Versel's original FierceEMR article and associated comments.