Healthcare Business News

VA's IT chief announces plans to resign

By Joseph Conn
Posted: February 19, 2013 - 2:00 pm ET

Roger Baker, the man who steered the Veteran Affairs Department's healthcare information technology development program toward an open-source model, is resigning.

“My friends and colleagues in VA IT, this e-mail is to announce that I am planning to resign from my position as the assistant secretary for information and technology in the near future,” Baker said in the message sent Feb. 15. “At this point, I have not established when my final day will be.” Although Baker's official title is assistant secretary, his duties are comparable to those of a chief information officer for the federal department, which operates the largest integrated healthcare system in the U.S. with 138 hospitals and 990 clinics. He's held that position since 2009.

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“I would like to thank each of you for your hard work and dedication in serving our VA customers and our nation's veterans. Over the last four years, VA IT has come to be recognized as a leader in federal IT. We have improved our relationships with our IT customers; established one of the highest-performing product delivery organizations in the world; achieved visibility to our networks and medical devices; focused our decisionmaking based on metrics and not by anecdotes; and become an IT organization that is seen as an investment for the VA rather than an expense.

“Most critically, VA IT has become the backbone for the transformation of the VA into a 21st century organization that the secretary has envisioned,” Baker wrote. “Your ability to deliver the technology necessary to support that transformation and to reliably meet our commitments to our customers is fundamental to that transformation.

“Thank you all for all that you do in providing service and support to our nation's veterans. Your work is important and it has been my honor to be a part of this amazing organization.”

Baker received a standing ovation in 2011 when he met with members of a growing community of developers and users of an open-source version of the VA's VistA electronic health-record system and confirmed what had been previously announced, “that for good or bad, we're moving ahead with open source for the VA."

On Baker's watch, the VA launched the Open Source Electronic Health Record Agent , or OSEHRA, to serve as the coordinator of the open-source project and as custodian of VistA software developed going forward.

Sad to see Baker go is Dr. Nancy Anthracite, president of WorldVistA, a not-for-profit organization promoting the use of an open-source version of VistA, which predates and operates independent of OSEHRA.

“Prior to Roger Baker taking office, the interaction with the open-source VistA community consisted of the VA releasing its open-source code as a Freedom of Information Act release,” Anthracite said in an e-mail. Baker “understood the potential for huge benefit from a two-way exchange of code and open communication with the open-source community. We were astounded when he was successful in bring OSEHRA to life.

“The full potential of OSEHRA to shepherd VistA to being both open source and openly developed has yet to be achieved,” Anthracite said. “Once that potential is reached, we are confident the VA, potentially the DOD, and the world can benefit from huge cost savings and more rapid development, innovation and modernization of VistA. We greatly fear that the momentum toward achieving those benefits will be lost when Roger Baker leaves.”

What appeared as a threat to future open-source development of VistA was a project to create from scratch a new single common “best of breed” EHR to be used both by the VA and the Defense Department's Military Health System. But that project, which had become dominated by the military and was estimated to cost as much as $15 billion, was scrapped Feb. 5 by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as too expensive and time consuming. The secretaries announced as an alternative separate developments of each department's own systems with a plan toward greatly expanding their interoperability through 2014.

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