Among VHA's integration initiatives is a requirement that vendors adopt a standard that ends the hunt for information on the same patient in different software systems.
Developed at Duke University, the standard synchronizes management of patient data among all computer applications running at once on the same workstation, said Dave Miller, VHA's director of integration.
Healthcare workers typically can run more than one program at the same time, working in one while the others are "inactive" in computer frames called windows. But they still have to search through each program for desired data.
Under the new scheme, when a patient file is called up on the active program, all the other programs being run would switch to that patient. So if a nurse has an electronic medical record on the screen and needs to check a scheduling program for that patient, the schedule information would already be in the window, Miller said.
This synchronization is running on about 400 workstations at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, N.C., the fruits of the Clinical Context Object Workgroup, known as CCOW and pronounced "seacow."
But the idea isn't groundbreaking, said Duncan James, HBO & Co.'s vice president of marketing. "We were doing this before there was a seacow," he said.