VA’s EHR System Works Well

Article Highlights:
  • Efforts to create a streamlined electronic health records system have been challenging.
  • U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs's VistA system has been an exception, connecting thousands of VA doctors, hospitals and clinics nationwide.
  • At least one hospital has adapted VistA's nonproprietary system for their purposes, at a significant cost savings.
by Bill Norman on October 1, 2009 - 3:11pm

QUEST Vol. 16, No. 4

Very few existing EHR systems function well, complicating plans to implement a nationwide electronic health records system. But the Department of Veteran Affairs’ VistA system is a notable exception.

VistA connects thousands of VA doctors, 170 VA hospitals and 900 clinics across the country, and contains more than five billion documents and images.

A New England Journal of Medicine study found that “VA hospitals have used electronic health records for more than a decade with dramatic associated improvements in clinical quality.”  

Shri Mishra, co-director of the MDA Clinic at UCLA Medical Center, also works part time for the VA. “I use their VistA system and love it,” he said. Thomas Bird, co-director of the MDA Clinic at University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, said he utilizes VistA often and has found “many positives and few negatives.”

Because VistA is already up and running, and because it’s not a proprietary system, it can be adapted to nongovernmental systems.  Midland Memorial Hospital in Midland, Texas, implemented an open-source version of VistA at a cost of about $7 million, a third of what it would have spent on proprietary vendor technology.

Ironically, VistA cannot yet “talk” to the Department of Defense AHLTA EHR system, or vice versa, but efforts are under way to make the two systems interoperable.

For more about electronic health records, check out "Electronic Health Records for All:Panacea or Pandemonium?" and "Big Business Smells Money in EHR Game."

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