DSS, Inc. a leading developer of enhancements to VistA, the award-winning electronic health record developed by the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs, has announced it will Open Source the code for its vxVista an enhanced version of VistA designed for the commercial market. In this major development, DSS, Inc. has effectively removed the greatest obstacle to collaboration in the VistA community by providing their enhanced version of VistA under a commercially friendly open source license that can be used to unite the VistA community. Mark Byers, President and CEO of DSS, Inc., said that vxVistA is being released as open source software at a critical time in this country’s history. Byers saidd, “The healthcare crisis is one of the major challenges facing this country,” adding that “VistA deployments in the private sector have demonstrated that VistA can provide private hospitals and clinics with the highest quality electronic health record in the shortest amount of time for a fraction of the cost of competing products. “We can lower the cost of healthcare while significantly increasing the quality of that care by implementing VistA across the United States.” A large number of healthcare leaders in the United States also believe that VistA provides the ideal framework for rapidly implementing electronic healthcare records across the country. Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) introduced the Health-e Information Technology Act (HR 6898) last year that lays out a clear strategy in this regard. As an integral part of its actions, DSS, Inc. has joined the Open Health Tools (OHT) Foundation. Open Health Tools is the leading umbrella non-profit organization for open source projects in healthcare. Skip McGaughey, Executive Director of Open Health Tools said “We are very excited about DSS joining OHT and making such a significant contribution.” McGaughey added, “The VistA technology has been used by millions of people and has established the benchmark for the industry.” Speaking on behalf of OHT, McGaughey emphasized that “We are looking forward to helping bring this technology to a world wide community.” DSS’ Mark Byers said “we are looking forward to working with Open Health Tools.” Byers explained, “we had been looking to open source vxVistA for the past two years. Open Health Tools presented us with the kind of approach that we were looking for as well as a commercially-friendly license that members of the VistA community can work with.” The vxVistA EHR framework will be part of the OHT Forge project. It will be released under the Eclipse Public License (EPL). The Open Health Tools (OHT) Foundation is modelled after the Eclipse Foundation, one the most successful open source projects today. Using the Eclipse Public License all members of the ‘VistA community’, including competitors, will be able to use vxVistA as the core framework for their products and innovations. Peter Groen, a leading advocate of VistA in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) since its inception, applauded DSS’ move. Mr. Groen, who was the National Director of the Health IT Sharing Office within VHA, prior to his retirement, said, “This is an extremely important move. DSS has tremendous credibility and a long successful track record with VistA. As the Open Health Tools (OHT) Foundation and its key members get behind this, major advances and new markets will open up for VistA and the many companies supporting it.” According to Groen, “This becomes a key step in moving ownership of VistA into the larger ‘open community’ where it belongs and can be free to continue growing and adapting to meet the needs of the ever changing world of healthcare.” In addition to being released under the Eclipse Public License, vxVistA’s framework will follow that of the Eclipse Foundation. Companies will be able to collaborate to build products by programming and packaging plug-ins, modules and extensions to vxVistA’s core framework. There were several considerations that factored into DSS, Inc. and Open Heath Tools choice of the Eclipse framework for vxVistA:
- focus on value-add: using the VistA ecosystem framework, VistA vendors, users, and contributors will be able to focus on their value-added enhancements rather than wasting time re-inventing the base code;
- lower development costs: contributors will have lower application development costs enabling them to get to market faster;
- lower risk of adoption: Users will face a significantly lower risk of adoption than proprietary, closed-source applications as there will be an entire ecosystem and community behind vxVistA;
- enhanced testing and debugging: vxVistA code is based on the latest version of the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ VistA, which has been continually updated with patches and enhancements by DSS, Inc. As open source code, vxVistA will benefit from a much wider audience of programmers to more thoroughly test and debug it;
- compatible programs: Programs using the same vxVistA framework will be compatible through the use of plug-ins and modules, as multiple plug-ins and modules can be used with a single instance of the framework; and
- potential for widespread use: vxVistA’s compatibility with other framework programs will lead to its widespread use by hospitals, clinics, medical practices, and large numbers of programmers.