The Washington Post on Tuesday examined VistA, or Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture, the electronic health records system used by the Department of Veterans Affairs. VistA, established in 1999, allows authorized VA personnel to view EHRs for all of the 5.3 million patients treated at the 155 hospitals, 881 clinics, 135 nursing homes and 45 rehabilitation centers operated by the department. According to the Post, EHRs “make confusing and physically unwieldy masses of data instantly available, portable and searchable — altogether more useful than when the information was stored on paper” — and allow physicians to detect trends in physiological variables such as serum chemistry, cell counts, blood pressure and weight. In addition, EHRs “bridge one of the more perilous chasms in medicine” — the transfer of health care when patients leave hospitals — and help improve physician performance and prevent medication errors, the Post reports. EHRs also could reduce health care costs by as much as $162 billion annually, according to one estimate. President Bush has called for a nationwide EHR system by 2014, but VA currently is one of the few health care systems that has implemented such a system. Many health care systems have not implemented EHR systems because of the initial costs, which can range from a few million dollars to $60 million, Pat Wise, an executive with Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, said (Brown, Washington Post, 4/10).
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