Using open-source software from the Veterans Administration, West Virginia has created a paperless records system for its state-run hospitals and nursing homes serving the indigent elderly and mentally ill. However, few hospitals around the country have followed suit, according to a May 4 article in the Boston Globe.

Known as VistA, the software has saved the state millions in software licensing fees charged by commercial software vendors, the article pointed out. Available free of charge to the public, the software offers features like a bar-coding system to track drug dispensations.

Nevertheless, wealthier hospitals have chosen to purchase more expensive, customized systems from private vendors. In the meantime, smaller, rural hospitals often stick with paper records, the article pointed out.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, is introducing legislation that would facilitate adoption of VistA, as well as other open-source systems, among hospitals that serve the poor. Specifically, he plans on fully underwriting the roughly $10 billion cost of installing and maintaining open-source electronic records systems in all of the country’s safety-net hospitals.

"This legislation does not replace commercial software; instead, it complements the private industry in this field by making health information technology a realistic option for all providers," Rockefeller said in a statement.

The bill would also create a federal public utility board to coordinate upgrades to a national open-source system and build a standard child-specific electronic health record for the Medicaid program.

John Halamka, the chief information officer for Beth Israel, which has a custom electronic records system, said he supports open source, but pointed out that software like VistA was designed for large institutions with a single payer.

"We should disseminate VistA where it’s a good fit," he said, but finding a single system to fit the needs of every clinician "is just not happening."   

[Source: The Boston Globe]