VA to Cure Healthy IT Budgets

Despite having what is arguably the most successful, large-scale health IT program in the world, the Veteran Affairs Department is under pressure to trim its budget for information technology programs.

Despite having what is arguably the most successful, large-scale health IT program in the world, the Veteran Affairs Department is under pressure to trim its budget for information technology programs.

Of the department's 280 IT programs, two-thirds are in limbo, the result of a spending freeze ordered by the department's chief information officer. Most of those programs "are either being re-evaluated or have been canceled," reports Federal Computer Week, citing VA's chief information officer, Roger Baker, as its source.

Baker appears determined to keep a promise he made in December when he told a Senate budget committee that VA would make "hard decisions" this year about IT programs. The newfound scrutiny stems from a program management accountability system, adopted last year, that thus far has resulted in two rounds of "suspensions, re-evaluations, restarts and terminations," reports FCW.

Earlier this year VA projected savings of $54 million, most of it the result of halting a troubled scheduling application. The latest round of program suspensions will lead to "substantially more" savings, Baker told FCW.

The focus on cuts is shifting attention away from VA's track record of IT success. Last year, the New England Journal of Medicine lauded VA's use of electronic health records that had resulted in "dramatic associated improvements in clinical quality."

An article in this month's Health Affairs Journal reported that VA's implementation of health IT had generated net savings of about $3.1 billion over a 10-year period. The Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) is frequently mentioned as an affordable alternative for non-VA hospitals that otherwise will buy proprietary electronic health records at a cost of $20 million to $100 million.

VA appears to be headed in the other direction. It is considering buying an off-the-shelf scheduling application to replace the suspended in-house project.