VA’s VistA open source agent to launch in August

By Mary Mosquera
11:42 AM

The Veterans Affairs Department expects that the organization that will manage the open source community to modernize its VistA electronic health record will launch as the custodial agent in August.

The Informatics Applications Group Inc. (TIAG), a management and technology services company that was awarded a $5 million VA contract, and its partners will start operations of the community in the fall, VA said in an announcement June 30.

VA has also established a website for the custodial agent organization, which sets the ground rules and manages the open source community, its processes and resulting software products.

VA believes the collaborative method will generate innovation from more sources more quickly to advance the capabilities of the Veterans Integrated System Technology Architecture (VistA). Moving to an open source model invites innovation from the public and private sectors. VA will be just one of the participants, although a large one.

With the open source and custodial agent approach, VA has the “opportunity to create the next generation of EHRs, which is so important to our EHR collaboration with DOD and to many current and future users of electronic health records,” said Peter Levin, VA chief technology officer, in the announcement.

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VA must accelerate the modernization of VistA, developed initially in the 1970s, even as it cooperates with DoD on a common EHR. VistA’s legacy technical architecture makes maintenance and upgrades difficult and expensive, a number of VA officials have said. 

TIAG said it has named Seong Mun, a biomedical researcher in areas of imaging and information technology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, to serve as the acting senior program coordinator of the custodial agent organization.

Among its activities, the custodial agent will maintain a code repository that contains all of the software that VA uses as well as new components that it may consider. The database will be universally accessible, Levin said.

The custodial agent certifies that the software works with existing code, sometimes as simple plug and play, while other times a module might become part of the underlying platform. The custodial agent will verify that the software performs according to the technical specifications before incorporating it and makes sure that proper licenses are in place. 

“We want as many people as possible to use, develop and test the code,” Levin said.