Defense, VA should convert old code to build new record system

By Bob Brewin 04/14/2009

Two software companies claim the Defense and Veteran Affairs departments could spend a fraction of the billions of dollars they say they need to develop an electronic health records system from scratch if they converted old software to new open-source code.

As a way to answer President Obama’s call last week to create a joint Defense-VA electronic health record system, the departments should consider a project that converted decades-old software in a legacy health records system operated by VA into open-source Java programming language, said Greg Tablock, vice president of sales for The Software Revolution Inc., which conducted the conversion.

VA awarded the company a contract in 2005 to convert 300,000 lines of old code in the time-keeping application of the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), which VA uses to manage the health records of veterans and their families. Software Revolution, based in Kirkland, Wash., converted the legacy code, known as the Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System (MUMPS), to the Java programming language in seven minutes, said Phillip Newcomb, the company’s chief executive officer.

Software Revolution then spent most of the four-month demonstration project optimizing the new Java time-keeping database, he said.

In February, the company converted on its own about 2.5 million lines of additional VistA MUMPS code to Java, a process that took about 20 hours, according to Newcomb.

He said for about $125 million, a contractor could convert all of VistA’s operating software to Java, including deploying new hardware to replace VA’s antiquated Alpha computers, which were manufactured by long-defunct Digital Equipment Corp. In September 2008, S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, estimated it would cost Defense and VA about $15 billion to develop an electronic health records system.

Tablock said VA could complete the conversion process in two to five years, a project that would require installing the new software at all 153 VA medical centers, with the software hosted locally at each medical center.

http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20090414_9453.php

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