Veterans Affairs will host electronic health records in DISA data centers

VA will begin shifting operations at hospitals in New York and New Jersey in March.

The Veterans Affairs Department will start to move data center operations that support its Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) electronic health records to data centers operated by the Defense Information Systems Agency in March. Officials expect to complete the transition in slightly more than a year, VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker told Nextgov.

Baker also said VA already has shifted data center operations that support the Veterans Benefits Management System and the post-9/11 GI Bill to commercial data centers operated by Terremark Worldwide, a subsidiary of Verizon Communications.

Baker said the transfer will not cause a cut in any VA jobs. Data center operation is not a core VA mission, he said.

Moving the VistA electronic health records to DISA data centers will help support development of a joint electronic health record for both departments, which will make it the largest in the world, serving 9.7 million active-duty personnel, retirees and their families, and 6 million veterans.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed in March 2011 to develop the joint health record.

Baker said each of VA's 152 hospitals will have one to six servers, depending on the size of the hospital, to host VistA in the DISA data centers. The move to DISA will start with hospitals in Region 2, which includes hospitals in upstate New York, and Region 3, which includes New York City and New Jersey.

The department kicked off its data center consolidation three years ago with a move to commercial, regional data centers. Baker said he had no concerns about hosting VistA in commercial data centers, as the VA uses centers that meet Tier III requirements, which include redundant systems that guarantee 99.995 percent availability.

VA's September 2011 data center consolidation plan said that eventually VistA will be hosted at four DISA data centers.

Baker said VistA data will be hosted at data centers located 500 to 1,000 miles apart and will include a "fail-over" system to ensure backup in case the primary data center shuts down. The Defense AHLTA electronic health record clinical data repository was offline for more than eight hours Tuesday due to a problem with a software upgrade over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

To guarantee that clinicians can quickly access information stored in remote locations requires high-speed circuits, and Baker said VA "has a lot of bandwidth" with at least a DS-3 circuit, which has a throughput of 44.736 megabits per second into each hospital, backed up by redundant circuits. These high-speed links will ensure that a doctor will not wait longer than six seconds to view a VistA screen, he said.

Baker said he received a "good deal" from DISA to host VistA, but declined to provide any details.