West Virginia, a small, mostly rural state, is the adopted home of Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, and, arguably, also where open-source healthcare information technology has been most widely adopted.
It is in keeping, then, that Rockefeller, past chairman and current member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and current chairman of the health subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee, announced last week that he was introducing legislation to facilitate nationwide adoption of electronic health records, particularly among small, rural providers.
The Rockefeller bill seeks to do so by creating a public utility software system based on the clinical IT systems developed at taxpayer expense by the VA and the Indian Health Service, according to a news release and Rockefellers testimony in the Congressional Record.
The senators Health Information Technology Public Utility Act of 2009 would, according to a news release, build upon the successful use of open-source electronic health records by the VA, related software developed by the Indian Health Service and the federal health information exchange software released as open source earlier this month.
Rockefellers bill calls for the creation of a Federal Consolidated Health Information Technology Board under the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS. The board would be responsible for linking efforts of current and new users of the clinical IT systems of the VA and Indian Health Service and ensuring that those systems are updated on a timely basis.
The bill also would create a 21st Century Health IT Grant Program to fund the implementation and use of the VA and Indian Health Service clinical IT systems by public and not-for-profit safety net providers at eligible hospitals and clinics, with some additional funding for demonstrations in long-term care, home health and hospice, according to Rockefellers remarks published April 23 in the Congressional Record.
The Health Information Technology Public Utility Act fills a crucial gap in health IT affordability and accessibility, Rockefeller said. This legislation does not replace commercial software; instead, it complements the private industry in this fieldby making health information technology a realistic option for all providers and by making it possible for the benefits of health IT to accrue to all patients.
Copies of the VAs VistA clinical IT system are available largely without charge under the Freedom of Information Act. Its ready availability and low cost has spawned a growing interest by both the government and private-sector healthcare organizations in using VistA outside the VA. A handful of vendors have adapted VistA as the basis for their own commercial proprietary or open-source versions of the software.
In addition, the Indian Health Service has developed its own Resource and Patient Management System, or RPMS, a clinical IT system that is based on the VAs VistA system.
The legislationthe first Rockefeller has introduced on open-source technologysprings from the successful experiences of West Virginia providers with open-source healthcare IT systems, according to Rebecca Gale, a spokeswoman for Rockefeller's office.