Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and HIPAA for FREE!!

VA May Drop VistA For Commercial EHR

Posted on July 12, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

It’s beginning to look like the famed VistA EHR may be shelved by the Department of Veterans Affairs, probably to be replaced by a commercial EHR rollout. If so, it could spell the end of the VA’s involvement in the highly-rated open source platform, which has been in use for 40 years. It will be interesting to see how the commercial EHR companies that support Vista would be impacted by this decision.

The first rumblings were heard in March, when VA CIO LaVerne Council  suggested that the VA wasn’t committed to VistA. Now Council, who supervises the agency’s $4 billion IT budget, sounds a bit more resolved. “I have a lot of respect for VistA but it’s a 40-year-old product,” Council told Politico. “Looking at what technology can do today that it couldn’t do then — it can do a lot.”

Her comments were echoed by VA undersecretary for health David Shulkin, who last month told a Senate hearing that the agency is likely to replace VistA with commercial software.

Apparently, the agency will leave VistA in place through 2018. At that point, the agency expects to begin creating a cloud-based platform which may include VistA elements at its core, Politico reports. Council told the hearing that VA IT leaders expect to work with the ONC, as well as the Department of Defense, in building its new digital health platform.

Particularly given its history, which includes some serious fumbles, it’s hardly surprising that some Senate members were critical of the VA’s plans. For example, Sen. Patty Murray said that she was still disappointed with the agency’s 2013 decision back to call of plans for an EHR that integrated fully with the DoD. And Sen. Richard Blumenthal expressed frustration as well. “The decades of unsuccessful attempts to establish an electronic health record system that is compatible across the VA in DoD has caused hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to be wasted,” he told the committee.

Now, the question is what commercial system the VA will select. While all the enterprise EHR vendors would seem to have a shot, it seems to me that Cerner is a likely bet. One major reason to anticipate such a move is that Cerner and its partners recently won the $4.3 billion contract to roll out a new health IT platform for the DoD.

Not only that, as I noted in a post earlier this year, the buzz around the deal suggested that Cerner won the DoD contract because it was seen as more open than Epic. I am taking no position on whether there’s any truth to this belief, nor how widespread such gossip may be. But if policymakers or politicians do see Cerner as more interoperability-friendly, that will certainly boost the odds that the VA will choose Cerner as partner.

Of course, any EHR selection process can take crazy turns, and when you grow in politics the process can even crazier. So obviously, no one knows what the VA will do. In fact, given their battles with the DoD maybe they’ll go with Epic just to be different. But if I were a Cerner marketer I’d like my odds.

One Government EHR for All of Healthcare

Posted on August 26, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Over and over I hear some doctor or EHR industry person say, “Why doesn’t the government just provide one EHR for all of healthcare?” Usually this is followed by some suggestion that the government has invested millions (or is it billions?) of dollars in the Vista EHR software and they should just make that the required national EHR.

You can see where this thinking comes from. The government has invested millions of dollars in the Vista EHR software. It’s widely used across the country. It’s used by most (and possibly all) of the various medical specialties. Lots of VA users love the benefit of having one EHR system where their records are always available no matter where in the VA system you go for health care. I’m sure there are many more reasons as well.

While the idea of a single EHR for all of healthcare is beautiful in theory, the reality of our healthcare system is that it’s impossible.

I’ve always known that the idea of a single government EHR was impossible, but I didn’t have a good explanation for why I thought it was impossible. Today, I saw a blog post called “Health IT Down the Drain” on Bobby Gladd’s blog. The blog post refers to the $1.3 billion over the last 4 years (their number) that has been spent trying to develop a single EHR system between the Department of Defence (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA). Congress and the President have demanded an “integrated” and “interoperable” solution between the two departments and we yet to see results. From Bobby’s post comes this sad quote:

“The only thing interoperable we get are the litany of excuses flying across both departments every year as to why it has taken so long to get this done,” said Miller, the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee…

The government can’t even bring together two of its very own departments around a single EHR solution. Imagine how it would be if the government tried to roll out one EHR system across the entire US healthcare system.

I hope those people who suggest one government EHR can put that to bed. This might work in a much smaller country with a simpler healthcare system. It’s just never going to happen in the US.

Blue Button Access to EHR Data

Posted on September 20, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.


What great news that we got this month about the Blue Button having 1 million users. That’s a big number for what really amounts to a rather simple idea. The idea being that when you click on a simple blue button you can download your patient record.

The article in the tweet above points out how the technology of the Blue Button is simple, but it’s had a much larger impact than the technology would suggest. Here’s portions of what Peter Levin, VA’s chief technology officer, said about the Blue Button:

“There was no nuclear physics here. It’s not that hard to strip out all of the things on the back end that make a bold font and a blue background and put raw health data out.” he said. “Once we got the directive from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs himself, from a technical perspective it was really simple to implement.”

Levin said the more important hurdle Blue Button wound up overcoming was ingrained cultural notion that one’s own medical information should only be available to medical professionals.

“It was a big step in terms of attitude,” he said. “Providers now understand that it’s OK to make that data available, and patients now understand it’s OK to get that data. Both parties now understand in that conversation that they should be talking.”

Within VA, Levin said, providers have mostly embraced the idea. But holdouts do exist.

“You’re going to find some providers in our enormous national system that haven’t gotten the memo yet,” he said. “They’re going to say, ‘Why would you want that data? All a patient’s going to do is go to the Internet and start asking questions that make them more anxious and use more of my time.’ Those folks exist. But they’re in the minority.”

The article also suggests that between the VA, DoD, CMS and private insurers, 100 million American have access to their Blue Button patient records.

I really like this video that I found on the Markle website about the Blue Button. Putting some names, faces and stories with something always makes it more real to me. You’ll have to visit their website to see the video since they’ve disabled embedding of the video (which is a shame).

The Blue Button has been a good initiative to help liberate healthcare data. I’m sure we’ll see more of it in the future. Although, we could still use some better tools to do something with the data we download.

VA Hospitals Had Big EMR, BCMA Implementation Problems, Study Says

Posted on April 12, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A new study done at a group of seven VA hospitals has concluded the hospitals rolled out their EMRs with far too little planning, leading to problems that tied staff members and clinicians in knots.

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Managed Care, drew on interviews with doctors, IT staffers, nurses, pharmacists and managers.  The interviews were done several years after the VA had implemented its computerized patient record system (CPRS) and its bar code medication administration system (BCMA).

The respondents told interviewees that for most of them, the new technology created big difficulties. Many of the interviewees didn’t start out familiar with computer use, making the inevitable workflow disruption even worse than in other hospitals.

BCMA was a particualrly sore spot for the VA clinicians and staff, as it was phased in more rapidly and with little training for users.  Staff members at the hospitals essentially had to implement and use the system on their own, according to a story appearing in Information Week.

As if this wasn’t challenging enough, the hospitals ran into major issues in selecting and rolling out hardware to support these new technologies.

For one thing, some of the hospitals had little idea how to  build a wireless network capable of supporting the myriad of computer cards in use at their facility. In some cases, they faced major connectivity problems after failing to test the wireless systems prior to rollout of CPRS and BCMA.  Other hospitals in the seven had great difficulty figuring out how many computer terminal to order.

As I read the situation, the hospitals’ BCMA rollout led to the biggest problems and greatest possibility for harm.  All seven of the hospitals reported having major BCMA issues, including miscoded medications, empty unit-dose packages being delivered items not scanning.

Perhaps even worse, nurses sometimes had to cut the ID bands off of patient wrists just to scan them, or scan from extra wristbands in patient charts. “At some VA hospitals, staff were implicitly or explicitly permitted to use various workarounds with BCMA, such as…doing all scanning after medication administration,” the magazine reports, quoting the research report.

Not only that, many workarounds remained in place years after the BCMA rollout — a testimony, if there ever was one, to getting things right the first time.

Apparently, according to IW, BCMA is at stage 5 in the maturity scale HIMSS Analytics has established for measuring the maturity of a hospital EMR rollout. HIMSS says that 8.4 percent of hospitals are at this stage.

The thing is, a maturity scale shows its own weakness when you can laud a hospital for getting there even if their implementation has disrupted workflow greatly and even put patients at risk.  And I’m not aware of any ratings scale from HIMSS (or a similar entity) that grades quality of execution.

Do you know of other ratings systems for hospital EMR rollouts that do more to adjust for poor planning or implementation problems?  If you do, I’d love to hear about them.  This story is pretty scary.

Meaningful Use at HIMSS 2012 – Meaningful Use Monday

Posted on February 13, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Since I have HIMSS on the mind (as has probably been seen from my previous posts), I figured I’d talk about what we can expect from meaningful use at HIMSS 2012 in Las Vegas.

Meaningful Use Conversations Dominate
I think with all certainty all of us will be tired of hearing the word meaningful use after HIMSS. I might have to try and keep track of how many conversations I have where the words meaningful use aren’t used. Notice I’m counting the ones where it’s not used since I know that almost every conversation will include meaningful use.

I’m not sure that’s very healthy for the industry, but I think that’s the reality of where we’re at. While I’m sure I’ll ask plenty of questions about meaningful use as well, my favorite EHR vendors are probably going to be those that say: we meet meaningful use, we’ve abstracted meaningful use so its not an annoyance to doctors, and here’s what we’ve done to innovate our product outside of MU.

Meaningful Use Stage 2
Any day now I think that ONC/CMS is going to announce the final details for meaningful use stage 2. I imagine the regulatory process could push this so that ONC/CMS announce meaningful use stage 2 at HIMSS, but from what I’ve read I think they want to get it out before HIMSS. I hope they’re successful in making this happen.

Either way, I’ll be surprised if we don’t know about meaningful use stage 2 before/during HIMSS. So, if you want to be in the know, be prepared to talk about the final details of meaningful use stage 2. In the mean time, check out Lynn’s previous MU Monday post about meaningful use stage 2.

Federal IT Participation at HIMSS 12
Every healthcare related part of the federal government is going to be represented at HIMSS 12. HIMSS has been nice enough to provide a page listing all of HHS, CMS, ONC, AHRQ, CDC, HRSA, NIST, OCR, SSA, and VA sessions at HIMSS 2012. My only complaint with that page is that there are still a bunch of details missing on a number of the sessions. I imagine this is the government dragging their feet, but it sure makes it hard to plan.

While many of the government sessions can be dry and boring (partially attributed to what I call the government muzzle), it can be a really good place to hear the direction of the federal government when it comes to healthcare IT directly from their own mouth.

I also suggest that Farzad Mostashari’s keynote address won’t be nearly as interesting to someone familiar with healthcare IT as his ONC Townhall: Advancing Health IT into the Future session on Wed, 2/22 at 2:15 in San Polo 3503. I know I also want to work in a session on MU stage 2 and the future of EHR certification from the federal perspective as well.

“Meaningful” References
Is it just me, or do other people have a problem using the word meaningful now. At least it’s a challenge with many of my healthcare friends. Although, sometimes I throw it in there just for irony’s sake. Hopefully this post was meaningful to you.

Also, a big thanks to all those that filled out the EMR and HIPAA reader survey. I’ve loved all the feedback. Interestingly enough, one of the more common feedback items was that you liked the Meaningful Use Monday series. We’ll do what we can to keep it going.

Study Shows Value of NLP in Pinpointing Quality Defects

Posted on August 25, 2011 I Written By

For years, we’ve heard about how much clinical information is locked away in payer databases. Payers have offered to provide clinical summaries, electronic and otherwise, The problem is, it’s potentially inaccurate clinical information because it’s all based on billing claims. (Don’t believe me? Just ask “E-Patient” Dave de Bronkart.) It is for this reason that I don’t much trust “quality” ratings based on claims data.

Just how much of a difference there was between claims data and true clinical data hasn’t been so clear, though. Until today.

A paper just published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that searching EMRs with natural-language processing identified up to 12 times the number of pneumonia cases and twice the rate of kidney failure and sepsis as did searches based on billing codes—ironically called “patient safety indicators” in the study—for patients admitted for surgery at six VA hospitals. That means that hundreds of the nearly 3,000 patients whose were reviewed had postoperative complications that didn’t show up in quality and performance reports.

Just think of the implications of that as we move toward Accountable Care Organizations and outcomes-based reimbursement. If healthcare continues to rely on claims data for “quality” measurement, facilities that don’t take steps to prevent complications and reduce hospital-acquired infections could score just as high—and earn just as much bonus money—as those hospitals truly committed to patient safety. If so, quality rankings will remain false, subjective measures of true performance.

So how do we remedy this? It may not be so easy. As Cerner’s Dr. David McCallie told Bloomberg News, it will take a lot of reprogramming to embed natural-language search into existing EMRs, and doing so could, according to the Bloomberg story, “destabilize software systems” and necessitate a lot more training for physicians.

I’m no technical expert, so I don’t know how NLP could destabilize software. From a layman’s perspective, it almost sounds as if vendors don’t want to put the time and effort into redesigning their products. Could it be?

I suppose there is still a chance that HHS could require NLP in Stage 3 of meaningful use—it’s not gonna happen for Stage 2—but I’m sure vendors and providers alike will say it’s too difficult. They may even say there just isn’t enough evidence; this JAMA study certainly would have to be replicated and corroborated. But are you willing to take the chance that the hospital you visit for surgery doesn’t have any real incentive to take steps to prevent complications?

 

VistA EHR Polarizes People

Posted on January 16, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I was recently quoted in an article in Federal Computer Week about the VistA EHR. I think the first paragraph of the article summarizes the article quite well:

Is VistA a diva in disguise? The Veterans Affairs Department’s renowned electronic health record (EHR) software is touted as one of the premier systems in the world. But it also has a reputation as a star performer who’s difficult to manage.

My part of the article is them quoting me saying, “It is amazing how polarizing VistA can be”

A small contribution for sure, but it’s so true. If I want traffic to this site, all I have to do is rip MUMPS and they’ll come out in mass to tell me why it’s great and why it sucks. People have strong opinions both ways. The crazy thing is that both groups are probably right.

P.S. I think we’ll make next week Meaningful Use week. Hopefully time will permit. Lots to still say about it. In the meantime, you should check out my Meaningful Use posts on EMR and EHR.

Benefits from EMR Come from Interoperability

Posted on December 10, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

“Looking for savings in hospitals that use EMRs is short-sighted. The real payday for use of EMRs will come with interoperability. Measurable savings will be realized as middleware is installed that will allow for the electronic transmission and translation of patient records across different proprietary systems between delivery networks.” – Jim Lott, Executive Vice President, Hospital Council of Southern California, Los Angeles source

“EMRs don’t save money in standalone situations. However, EMRs will absolutely save significant money (and improve care and safety) when connected and sharing clinical information.” Johnny Walker, MBA, CPA, Founder and past CEO of Patient Safety Institute, Plano, Texas source

These two quote remind me a lot of my previous post about the real long term benefits of EMR. Interoperability is one of those benefits that we won’t see right away. In fact, we’ll see little benefit from them until we hit a critical mass of EMR implementations that it’s almost futile to share information between EMR software. Kaiser and the VA are always held up as examples of successful EMR implementations and one of the main reasons for that is that they have such broad EMR adoption that they can share the clinical information across all of their clinics.

So, YES! there is a real benefit to EMR adoption long term and it comes dressed in the name “EMR data sharing.” However, it’s worth pointing out that this doesn’t diminish the very important more quickly seen EMR benefits.

Vista (VA EMR) Is Not Meant for Solo Docs and Small Group Practices

Posted on November 24, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The VA announced about 4-5 years ago that they would be releasing their Vista EMR as an open source package. Of course, the headline read “Government Gives Away Free EMR.” In essence, this was true. The government was making their Vista EMR available for free. In fact, I remember one of the people in HIM had an article on this subject and brought it to me when I first started working with EMR software.

I think this was a really smart move by the VA and the government and I think we’re just now starting to see some of the fruits of it being open source come to fruition. Check out this recent post about Vista on EMR and EHR. I have no doubt that the VA’s Vista EMR (err…the open source version of it) will be a player in the hospital EMR space.

The problem I have with it (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on this) is that Vista EMR isn’t meant for small practices like solo docs and small group practices in an ambulatory care setting. I’m not saying that it couldn’t be used that way, but it seems to me like taking a sledge hammer to a 1 penny nail. It’s overkill and is likely to cause more problems than good.

Here’s one example of a “feature” I’ve learned about the Vista EMR (and really the MUMPS database that powers it): “VistA is a multi-user system that actually can get faster with more people in the machine.”

I haven’t personally tested the statement, but it makes since why it could be the case. In fact, it’s a really cool feature for a large hospital with a large number of users accessing the same patients over and over again. Now let’s apply this to a small ambulatory practice. You only have a few people accessing a patient. Does this mean that Vista would actually be slower than other databases when you only have a small user base (ie. a small clinical practice)?

I’m not an expert on Vista (and probably never will be), but it seems to me that the marketing message for Vista should have read, “Government Gives Away Free Hospital EMR.”