Department of Veterans Affairs spends big on Health IT, sees big return

Health information technology adoption ultimately can lead to better quality care and cost savings, if new research at the Department of Veterans Affairs is any indication. Investments in the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) between 2001 and 2007 led to fewer unnecessary or redundant tests and better quality care, which added up to $3.09 billion in overall net benefits after investment costs, according to a study recently published in the medical journal Health Affairs

Part of the reason for such results was the high adoption rate of VistA components since 2004 by the VA, which was found to be nearly 100 percent. By comparison, adoption of health IT in the private sector has been lacking; among other statistics, the study points out that adoption of inpatient electronic health records is at 61 percent, while computerized physician order entry system use is only at 16 percent. As a result, the VA had higher performance for preventive care measures like cancer screenings, although, as the study points out, the VA spent more money for health IT, on average, than the private sector. 

While the report's authors admit that the VA's integrated structure likely played a big part in its adoption rate numbers, nextgov's Bob Brewin challenges national health IT coordinator David Blumenthal to build on VistA's example for the rest of the country. 

"One would think that this study would serve as an impetus to make VistA-available as an open source software-a building block for a national health record system," Brewin writes.

To learn more:
- here's the report in Health Affairs
- read Brewin's nextgov blog post
- check out this CMIO piece