VA considering switching from VistA system to commercial offering

The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking for information on companies who can help switch the agency from its VistA electronic health record system to a commercial product.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is exploring options for switching its homegrown VistA electronic health record system to a commercial product, according to contracting documents posted by the agency.


A new request for information is designed to "help our preparation," Fred Mingo, deputy program executive for VistA Evolution, told FCW on Aug. 11. "If we elect to pursue a commercial EHR, then this would be a complementary effort."


Mingo noted that any commercial software would involve a "significant amount of business process reengineering and change management activities, including clinical workflow standardization, training and more that would have to occur across the VA."


The RFI will help VA officials start a conversation with industry on what is available and what can be realistically achieved in the next few years.


"This effort is technology-agnostic at this point," Mingo added. "These are efforts that are going to take years."


VistA, which has been around for decades, is designed to assist doctors in their daily work. Providers at VA medical facilities nationwide customize it for their specific needs. But with more 130 instances of VistA, it is a challenge to update and maintain.


Congress has also been calling for IT modernization at the VA and a commercial product to replace VistA.


"I have said it time and again: The tools to solve these problems exist in the private sector," Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's IT Subcommittee, told FCW.


"I am cautiously optimistic that this RFI will result in health care improvements for our nation's veterans, and I look forward to continuing our oversight work to put VA on the right track," Hurd said.


He added that the VA's legacy technology has cost millions of dollars and led to systems that "are insecure, inefficient and inoperable, resulting in lengthy wait times and data vulnerability."


A VA official with knowledge of the RFI told FCW that VistA 4 is on track for delivery in fiscal 2018 and that "a decision to move forward and procure a [commercial health record] is still a [that] will be informed by findings from RFI(s), cost estimating and other planning efforts."


The RFI states that any proposed solutions should be interoperable with the Defense Department's EHR system and "allow veterans and clinical providers to send, receive, locate and use electronic health information in a manner that is appropriate, secure, timely and reliable."


Furthermore, "the modernized [Veterans Health Administration] system of systems of the future will include more than just a [commercial health record] in order to facilitate and automate business processes that support access and veteran's care."


Interested vendors have until Aug. 26 to submit their proposals.