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VA venture could spark rapid advancement in EHR technology

In an effort to jumpstart electronic health record (EHR) innovation, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has established an open source network and is inviting the private sector to participate.

Unlike a private company, which wants to protect proprietary software, the open source concept promotes modification or customization by users.The goal is to create a more user-friendly and error-free end product.

Included in the open source network is the VA’s EHR, known as the Veterans Integrated System Technology Architecture (VistA). The agency is looking for ideas to improve its efforts to create a single EHR system with the Department of Defense (DoD), which would allow more seamless transition of care from the military health system to the VA.

"We developed our open source strategy to engage the public and private sectors in the rapid advancement of our EHR software, which is central to the care we deliver to veterans and service members and to our joint EHR collaboration with the Department of Defense,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

The concept is that a community of EHR users, developers, and providers can collaborate to advance EHR technology more quickly. Individuals and organizations interested in participating in Open Source Electronic Health Record Agent (OSEHRA) are invited to join through the community Web site.  

A better understanding of the combined VA/DoD EHR could be especially important for the more than 325,000 physicians and other healthcare providers across the United States who are in the military’s TRICARE network, or the more than 1 million providers accepting TRICARE beneficiaries.

The joint “Blue Button” system, used by the VA and DoD, went national in October and allows beneficiaries to enter their family history, test results, emergency contact information, personal health indicators (blood pressure, weight, and heart rate) and other data online. Also, they can refill prescriptions, view appointments, and check laboratory results. In July, the VA announced it would award a $50,000 prize to the first team that builds a personal health record (PHR) using the Blue Button download format, and arranges to install it on the Web sites of 25,000 civilian physicians so that communication can be established between patients and their doctors and among providers. Ultimately, all physicians participating in TRICARE or providing medical care to veterans in areas without a VA medical center will likely be required to use the PHR.

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