VA wants help modernizing health records system

Department issues solicitation for technical help for VistA along with a statement of work

The Veterans Affairs Department is looking for expert help in developing an open source software model for modernization of its long-standing VistA (Veterans Health Information and Systems and Technology Architecture) health records system.

The department published a solicitation on Jan. 26 for technical services for the Vista Open Source Custodial Foundation Acquisition, along with a Statement of Work for the program.

The VistA suite of applications in use supports more than 150 VA hospitals and 887 ambulatory care facilities. The current system has been developed and used over several decades.

VistA is considered a world-class electronic health records system; however, VA leaders have been seeking advice on how to modernize it. In March 2010, an industry advisory panel, authorized by VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker, recommended that VistA modernization proceed as an open source development effort.


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According to the VA’s Statement of Work published on Jan. 26, an open source approach enables public, collaborative development that would result in a more robust software at a lower cost.

Other benefits of an open source VistA listed in the document include greater innovation and breadth of function; improved interoperability among VistA modules and between VistA and related systems; stronger system and application security; rapid customization (such as unique localization requirements); and improvements in quality and reliability.

According to the VA statement of work, a Custodial Foundation governance structure would be required to provide a framework for an open source community for VistA.

“Simply distributing source code to a community of software developers provides no assurance that the benefits of the Open Source model listed above can be achieved,” the statement said.

The VistA Custodial Foundation would perform such functions as:

  • Accept an initial distribution of software from VA.
  • Provide a structure for individuals, companies, and organizations to participate in the community by establishing membership guidelines, voting structures, and committee structures.
  • Provide a licensing mechanism.
  • Provide a means for guaranteeing interoperability.       

According to the solicitation, the VA is looking for two subject-matter experts to assist in creating the custodial foundation framework, as well as an acquisition strategy for it.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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