Vista brings visions of name confusion

October 4, 2005

Just as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services finally releases a beta version of the VA’s VistA-Office electronic health record technology for small offices, a complication lurks on the horizon: name confusion.

Just as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services finally releases a beta version of the VA's VistA-Office electronic health record technology for small offices, a complication lurks on the horizon: name confusion.

In July of this year, software giant Microsoft announced the name of its new Windows operating system: Vista.

"The timing of this is terrible. Microsoft released its name Vista just as CMS is getting the word out that they're offering VistA-Office to medical practices," said Barbara Boykin, chair of VistA Software Alliance, a nonprofit trade group charged with the development, installation, and maintenance of VistA-Office.

A Google search suggests that the trademark "Vista" is already owned by a custom software application and service provider based in Redmond, WA, named Vista.

John Wall, CEO of that company, was quoted July 23 in the Seattle Times as saying he was "considering all options" for a potential lawsuit against Microsoft.

There's more. The name of the software created for human genome research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center is VISTA.

The Microsoft announcement just as the CMS was about to release VistA-Office prompted a loud outcry from healthcare.

"It's confusing to the doctors, it's distracting from a noble effort by CMS, and I think it's shameful that Microsoft would do this," Boykin said.

VistA-Office is based on electronic health record software developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the 1980s and renamed Veterans Health Information System and Technology Architecture (VistA) in 1996. VistA provides electronic records for millions of veterans in 163 hospitals, 135 nursing homes, and 850 clinics.

Other organizations have based their software on the VA's VistA, including the Pacific Telehealth and Technology Hui in Hawaii (backed by the VA and the Defense Department), and WorldVistA, a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 to promote the use of the open source VistA software.

Neither the VistA Software Alliance nor WorldVistA has a legal remedy available, since neither owns the trademark. The name "VistA" belongs to the VA, according to Boykin. It is unclear at this time whether the VA will pursue the matter through legal channels.