CMS unveils small practice version of electronic health record software

September 21, 2005

The on-again, off-again release of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services version of the VA’s VistA-Office electronic health record technology for small offices is back on, but in beta format only.

The on-again, off-again release of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services version of the VA's VistA-Office electronic health record technology for small offices is back on, but in beta format only.

While the software itself is public domain, using it will incur some cost, contrary to previous news reports. The initial release will be limited to offices meeting strict requirements during an evaluation phase.

CMS will charge users $37 to put the software on a CD. To fire up the software, users will have to license the Cache database program which, including support services and updates, could run up to $2700 for the first year, according to CMS spokesperson Don McLeod.

In addition to these upfront fees, physicians will have to pay the American Medical Association for the use of current procedural terminology codes. Cost of ownership will also include the installation and support for the software, in addition to any hardware needed to run it, McLeod said.

During this evaluation phase, CMS has funded WorldVistA, a support organization providing training for vendors that will install the software. So far, CMS has chosen four vendors to help with installation: Document Storage System, Executive Software Systems, Medsphere Systems, and VOE Solutions. There are plans to add a fifth vendor to the program, McLeod said. Vendor information can be found at worldvista.org.

VistA-Office is suited for small offices with five or fewer physicians, McLeod said. The software can provide order entry functions, documentation templates, and clinical reminders, as well as other functions including patient registration, reporting of quality measures, and printing/faxing of prescriptions.

Physicians and offices interested in testing the software will have to meet a rigorous vetting process, according to McLeod. Qualified users will be small offices that have the IT infrastructure to handle the software implementation as well as the desire to function as a beta test site, receiving updates and providing feedback.

The evaluation period is expected to last about a year. While there is no limit on the number of evaluation sites, CMS is expecting around 10 participants, McLeod said.

Physicians and clinics interested in participating in the program as an evaluation site, can find more information at the vista-office.org site.