VA transitioning to commercial software to better serve veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) efforts to serve the nation’s veterans as efficiently as possible have long been hampered by its outdated information technology system. Now, the agency is looking to replace its current system with a commercial electronic health record (EHR) system.

During a House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing, VA Secretary David Shulkin acknowledged the agency’s need to modernize its IT sector. He told lawmakers that it was time to seek outside help as the department has more important priorities than software development.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that VA … doing its own software development inside is not a good way to pursue this,” said Shulkin. “We need to move toward commercially tested products. … Right now we should focus on the things veterans need us to focus on and work with companies who know how to do this better than we do.”

The VA is currently using the self-developed Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA). The agency has been working toward updating its decades-old system without much success. Congress has been urging the VA to shift to an off-the-shelf system that has the required tools and advanced analytics capabilities.

Randall Williamson, the Government Accountability Office’s director of healthcare, expressed his support for Shulkin’s readiness to turn to a commercial EHR. However, he warned that transitioning to outside vendors is likely to bring challenges as the VA will still have to integrate the new software with existing systems such as VistA.