The U.S. Veterans Affairs Department will lend more than moral support to a federal effort to boost the meaningful use of health information technology by submitting its venerable VistA electronic health-record system for testing and certification for use in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive payment programs.
A health IT leader at the VA also says veterans will benefit from the move when the VistA system is not only tweaked for testing but also enhanced by what will likely be a historic breakthrough in code-sharing with a community of developers of VistA-derivative systems.
VistA is used in 152 hospitals and more than 700 ambulatory clinics throughout the VA's Veterans Health Administration.
"We're going to try to get certified on everything for inpatient and outpatient," said Dr. Theresa Cullen, director of health informatics for the VHA.
Under a program run by HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, vendors of complete EHR systems and modular EHR components submit their software for testing and certification to one of several ONC-designated testing and certification bodies. Once tested and certified, the software becomes eligible for use by hospitals and physicians seeking to receive federal EHR incentive payments in the programs created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The VA has not sought to cash in on the EHR incentive payments and so had not previously sought certification for VistA. But multiple derivative versions of the VistA platform have been tested and certified by their public- and private-sector developers and then used by hospitals and office-based physicians to qualify for EHR incentive payments, federal records show.
Why the change at the VA? Part of it is setting a good example, and part is keeping up with care improvement, according to Cullen.
"I think the message is the VA really believes we are a leader in health information technology and we understand how, as a leader, we acknowledge the leadership of the office of the national coordinator," Cullen said. "If you look at what's required in certification, all of it benefits patient care. Striving for meaningful use will help us deliver better care for the veterans."