Page 27 - FCW, July30, 2016
P. 27

Veterans Affairs
Baker estimated that the cost could be as high as $16 billion.
With those considerations in mind, VA is working on making VistA inte- grate better with modern technology. There are 130 instances of VistA run- ning at VA sites, and the department can’t update them all at once, which makes it difficult to coordinate patches and upgrades.
Fred Mingo, deputy program execu- tive for VistA Evolution — the agency’s plan to modernize the system — told FCW, “VistA was created during a time of great innovation, and the VA’s lead- ership with electronic health records helped change the trajectory of health care for the country — something the department is proud of. The VA aims to maintain and/or regain this leadership role again in the future.”
A high-stakes wager
Harold Gracey, another former VA CIO who also served as the department’s chief of staff, said the VA is facing a tough challenge. “You can’t just pull out an old system and put in a new one,” he said. “It’s too risky.”
Lawmakers have praised current CIO LaVerne Council for what she’s done in the year she’s been on the job. “We are putting the right governance in place,” Council told FCW. “We are putting the right processes in place.”
But as the VA acknowledged in a recent report, the “aggressive timeline for upgrading VistA cannot match the accelerating trends of both technology and veterans’ needs.”
That’s why the VA is simultaneously pushing what officials are calling a digi- tal health platform — a modern, cloud- based architecture that can unify the 130 instances of VistA, support the new generation of mobile health apps and provide interoperability with caregivers outside the VA system, whether in DOD or the private sector.
VA spokesman Henry Huntley described the digital health platform as “a new partnership between VA and cutting-edge health industry experts, opportunity for VA to continue
to lead in federal government innova- tion, public/private partnership and [Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act] implementation.”
The digital health platform is also meant to address the concerns of watchdog organizations, including the Government Accountability Office. It calls for “greater IT innovation by fos- tering an interoperable ecosystem of solutions and services through its open interface framework,” Huntley said.
VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin told lawmakers in June that the agency is “looking at a transition plan that brings VA into a future state where all of health care is going to need to be, and that’s this issue of interoper- ability with community providers, the VA and DOD.”
He said the money appropriated for VistA Evolution would never go to waste, “regardless of whether our path forward is to continue with VistA, shift to a commercial EHR platform as DOD is doing or some combination of both.”
Skeptics on the Hill
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), who leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s IT Subcommit- tee, told FCW that “the issues we are dealing with within federal IT are not technology issues, they are leadership issues.” He added that “while the GAO and [inspector general] may be skepti- cal...skepticism has been based on a long history of poor performance by the VA rather than the specific new things LaVerne Council has been working on.”
Hurd said moving to a new system will likely generate pushback from doc- tors who resist learning a new way of doing their jobs, but he added that the main focus should be on veterans.
“If you have a doctor saying they like the VistA for data entry, that’s great, but are they being able to see all the records, is that piece in?” Hurd asked.
He said he believes there is a dis- connect between OI&T’s Washington, D.C., headquarters and VA hospitals and health centers around the country. “As the VA starts implementing new soft-
saying they like the VistA for data entry, that’s great, but are they being able to see all the records, is that piece in?” REP. WILL HURD
July 30, 2016

   25   26   27   28   29