VA, Georgia Tech to set up interoperability 'test bed'

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) Innovation Sandbox Cloud and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Interoperability and Integration Innovation Lab will collaborate to address interoperability issues, accelerate the development of integrated health IT solutions, test new products and help train the IT workforce needed to move the industry forward.

Georgia Tech, which officials say is believed to be the first academic organization to connect directly to VHA’s system, announced the partnership June 26.

The two organizations have signed an agreement that will formally connect innovation facilities and allow researchers from both organizations to collaborate on specific projects.

The agreement also facilitates the use of the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), VHA’s electronic health records system, to test new products and solutions. VistA already helps to manage care for 7.6 million active veterans across VHA’s nationwide healthcare system and is often touted as the best electronic health records system in operation.

“We believe that together we can do something really unique and important,” said Steve Rushing, director of Health@EI2, a healthcare innovation initiative at Georgia Tech. “By connecting our interoperability innovation lab to the VHA’s Sandbox Cloud, we can create joint project teams to work on specific challenges, work together to address industry issues and develop best practices, and test applications designed to run with the VA’s robust electronic health records system.”

VHA and Georgia Tech share many of the same goals and, by working together, the organizations can leverage investments made by VA and other federal agencies, noted Robert Kolodner, MD, who led development of VistA during his 28-year career at the VA. Kolodner serves as a strategic adviser to Georgia Tech on its healthcare IT initiatives.

“This collaboration enables decades of health IT advances by VA to be combined with investments by other federal agencies and with resources from both the state and private sectors,” Kolodner said. “Together, they create a robust, diverse education and simulation environment. We can train the health IT workforce necessary to succeed as our national health IT initiatives improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities across the nation.”

Georgia Tech’s Interoperability and Integration Innovation Lab (I3L) was established to stimulate new ideas in health IT by creating a standards-based environment in which resources can be shared, barriers reduced, and new products more rapidly developed and introduced. Beyond addressing existing challenges for the industry, the lab will help participants – including academic and nonprofit organizations, as well as providers of both commercial and open source products – anticipate the trends and opportunities that will drive health IT in the future.

“The I3L will help us understand how to create conformance in interoperable systems and how in the future all of the health and medical devices and systems can be tied together to create a seamless view of what’s happening to the patient,” said Jeff Evans, deputy director of the Information and Communications Laboratory in the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). “It will take us into the future of what healthcare is going to be, while also supporting the requirements of today.”