VISTA Enterprise Network - Successful Implementation, World Class Support

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More About Us

Here is some additional information about VISTA, the VISTA Expertise Network, and our goals and approach. If you're visiting us for the first time, please also read the "About Us" tab.


The VISTA Expertise Network was set up to promote the use of open-source VISTA software. VISTA is more than just an electronic health record (EHR). It is an entire suite of fully-integrated clinical support programs, built on a powerful database engine designed from the ground up to support the practice of medicine. VISTA was created over the course of three and a half decades within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and a close cousin is in use within the Indian Health Service (IHS). An adaptation of an earlier version is also being used by the Department of Defense (DOD). It has been successfully adapted for use outside of governmental systems, using an open-source approach to build on the public-domain codebase supplied by VA, under the Freedom of Information Act.

Until fairly recently, VISTA development was driven by the direct involvement of VA clinicians, using an agile, adaptive process. Unfortunately, a drive toward homogenization and centralization has led to a severe slowdown in innovation within VA. Facilities using VISTA outside VA have been hampered by having no communication back into the VA system, meaning that VA updates and upgrades—although welcome—are developed with no consideration for non-VA users. VA has also suffered from diminished direct user feedback in their development cycle.

During the last decade, the bureaucracy’s response to this “death of innovation” has been to pursue a wholesale replacement of VISTA, which has been branded as a “legacy” system, implying that it is outdated—even though it still supports a higher quality of care than any newer system has been able to demonstrate. This has lead to a series of very expensive, failed initiatives. Fortunately, this year, VA is experimenting with a new approach—setting up a custodial agent (OSEHRA) and working to create an open-source development ecosystem where outside contributions can make their way back into VA, IHS, and DOD systems, and variations within those systems can be shared to create an even richer pool of options for all VISTA systems. On the downside, some VA and DOD managers involved with the project still seem to hope that this will result in a wholesale replacement of their systems with “plug and play”, “modular” software.

Our Goal:

The VISTA Expertise Network believes that VISTA can continue to evolve and adapt, building on its track record of proven success. To that end, we have dedicated ourselves to both promoting adoption of the software and training a new generation of programmers and users.

Our Approach:

There is a pressing need for EHR software among underfunded rural hospitals. New legislation dictates that hospitals that cannot show Meaningful Use of their EHR will begin seeing reductions in Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) reimbursements beginning in 2015. These hospitals could receive ARRA funding toward purchase of EHR software during the next few years, but many do not have sufficient capital on hand to get the process going, leaving them unable to qualify for assistance, and facing penalties all too soon.

VISTA, as open-source software, can save these hospitals the large licensing fees associated with most commercial hospital software. It does, though, still require configuration, customization, and training of both IT staff and end users. VISTA Expertise Network recruits and manages the experts necessary for both installation and training.

One criticism that is leveled at VISTA is that it is “old fashioned,” since many functions within the system still rely on text-only user interfaces. The VISTA Expertise Network has collaborated with Dr. Rob Tweed of M/Gateway in launching the development of a new generation of user interface for VISTA, using Enterprise Web Developer (EWD) software. The new interfaces are device-independent, allowing them to run on anything from a PC to an iPad to an Android phone. The underlying system is unaffected, but the user experience is brought right up to date. The VISTA Expertise Network is promoting training of programmers and adoption of the new interfaces.

The VISTA Expertise Network is committed to creating the best training materials and courses to prepare programmers and users to gain the full benefits of VISTA. With our emphasis on promoting projects at hospitals and clinics in underdeveloped rural areas, we have the opportunity to create skilled jobs (and the skilled workers to fill them) right where they are needed the most.

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