Eight technology firms, including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Perot Systems Corp., have formed the Vista Software Alliance, a trade association to promote the private-sector use of the healthcare information technology system used by the Veterans Health Administration in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Besides Hewlett-Packard and Perot Systems, founding companies include Document Storage Systems, InterSystems Corp., Medical Alliances, Medsphere Systems Corp., Oleen Healthcare Information Management and Sea Island Systems.
The Veterans Health Information System and Technology Architecture, or Vista, system powers more than 150 VA hospitals and 850 outpatient clinics and has more than 100 modules, including an electronic health record, computerized physician order entry, lab and pharmacy systems and a picture archiving system. Copies are available from the VA under the Freedom of Information Act free of charge, not counting about $47 to cover copying expenses.
Hewlett-Packard has a service contract to help maintain the VistA system.
"Most software systems have a vendor, and the vendor markets the system," said Barbara Boykin, president of Silver Spring, Md.-based Oleen. "This is an unusual model. This is free software that is incredibly good and no one knows about it. It needs marketing, but unlike a vendor software, there is no company to do it. That's why we're pooling resources to do the marketing."
Few U.S. hospitals or outpatient facilities use the VA software, in part because there is no mechanism within the VA to assist would-be users in installing and supporting the complex Vista system. Boykin said the not-for-profit Vista Software Alliance "can be the buffer between the VA and the private sector."
"When a hospital calls up the VA looking for help and says, 'I want to use your system,' the VA can't help them," Boykin said. With the Alliance in place, "the VA can say, 'Go to this not-for-profit association. They can help you out.'
"We're hoping that CMS with the Office Vista project will do the same thing."
The VA and CMS are developing a version of Vista for physician offices that is slated to be ready for release this summer.