VA to open source electronic medical records

The Department of Veterans Affairs took another step toward creating an open-source format for electronic health records that could become the national standard on Friday.

VA's Veterans Integrated System Technology Architecture (VistA) is a 30-year-old electronic medical records system that some experts have suggested could form the basis for a national network of e-health records.

The Obama administration has made national adoption of the paperless records a major tenant of its overhaul of the nation's healthcare delivery system. VA is leading the charge among federal agencies thanks to VistA, considered the most extensively used e-health records system in the nation.

"As we work to ensure that we provide veterans with the best in health care, modernization of VistA is absolutely critical," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

"This move towards open source welcomes private-sector partners to work with us to improve VistA, and is an important part of our strategy to ensure that VA clinicians have the best tools possible, and that veterans receive the best healthcare possible."

Open source refers to using software platforms for which the code is publicly accessible, which allows outside developers to improve upon existing applications. The Obama administration has pushed the agencies to take more advantage of open source to increase collaboration with private sector technologists and firms.

VA plans on beginning VistA's conversion to open source this summer. Assistant secretary for information and technology Roger Baker said he hopes the process reignite the innovative processes that helped spawn VistA in the first place.