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VA seeks partners for open source electronic health records system

The Veterans Affairs Department has released a draft request for proposals to develop the next generation of its next-generation electronic health record system based on open source software.

"As we work to ensure that we provide veterans with the best in health care, modernization of VistA is absolutely critical," VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement, referring to the Veterans Integrated System Technology Architecture, the agency's EHR system. "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 health care possible."

Roger Baker, VA chief information officer, said the department has spent the past year examining an open source approach to VistA modernization. "We are convinced that this is the best approach for VA, veterans and taxpayers," he said, adding that the open source approach will "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."

Last month, five members of the Wisconsin congressional delegation asked VA and the Defense Department to consider using a single commercial system for their new electronic health records, a move that could have benefitted a major employer in the state, Epic Systems Corp., one of the most successful EHR companies in the country.

Yesterday, Shinseki told a hearing of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs panel of the Senate Appropriations Committee that he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates had reached an agreement to develop a common health record for the two departments. Congressional and industry sources said they expect that common record to be based on the modernized open source VistA.

The performance work statement for the VistA open source draft RFP that VA released on Thursday seeks a "custodial agent" to manage the open source effort, which will serve as the interface and clearing house between application and code developers and VA.

This statement makes clear that VA views the next generation of open source VistA as a key resource both inside and outside the department. VA said development as "an ecosystem in which the entire health care community has ready access to open source EHR software would produce benefits for all EHR users, including VA."

VA said it plans to issue the final RFP on or about April 22, will run the competition through the General Service Administration's Schedule 70 for information technology contracts and expects an award on June 15.

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