Open source VistA System offers Major Benefits for Small Community & Critical Access Hospitals (CAH)

Almost one fifth of the U.S. population lives in a rural areas. Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) and other small, rural community hospitals provide vital services to over 60 million people living in these areas.

Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) must be located in a rural area and be more than 35 miles from another hospital, or 15 miles by secondary roads or in mountain terrain. The hospital must have an emergency room that operates 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and is normally limited to 25 inpatient beds used for either inpatient or swing bed services.

The use of health IT holds great potential for Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) and the millions of citizens living in rural America. Not only does health IT enable better care coordination, but instant access to patient information can improve health care quality and patient outcomes in these rural communities. For more on the benefits to rural hospitals, go to

Health IT systems have the potential to transform how rural health care providers collect, manage, store, use and share health information. Health IT also helps rural communities access and coordinate care, improve disease surveillance, target health education, and compile regional data – all activities aimed at improving health care quality and patient outcomes.

In rural areas where distances between clinics are great and specialists are often few and far between, the use of health IT systems and electronic health records (EHR) can:

  • Give health care providers instant access to information they need to make timely, vital decisions and save lives
  • Decrease travel time for patients and their families
  • Enable rural hospitals to utilize remote clinicians, pharmacists, and staff members to improve and extend access
  • Facilitate efficient transfer to other facilities for vital services not offered locally
  • Facilitate efficient local care after intense care in a tertiary hospital by enabling patients to get care near their families and primary care providers

An Open Source EHR Alternative

Many of these small  rural hospitals cannot afford to acquire and implement costly commercial EHR systems.  However, there is an alternative many of these small community hospitals ought to more closely examine. A growing number of these small hospitals are turning to the open source VistA System developed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and supported by health IT vendors like Medsphere, DSS, and several other companies.

In addition to being used by over 150 hospitals and approximately 1000 clinics operated by the VA, VistA is now being used in dozens of state and community hospitals across the U.S. like West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Hawaii. The Indian Health Service uses an offspring of VistA, called RPMS, in over a hundred of its healthcare facilities. In addition, numerous hospitals in other countries around the world are now implementing the VistA EHR system, e.g. Mexico, India, Samoa.

VistA offers a high quality, low cost alternative to many of the other costly commercial solutions on the market. For more articles and information on the growing VistA community and the critical access and community hospitals running VistA, go to Open Health News.

Some specific articles you might want to look at include:

Author:  Peter Groen, senior editor at Open Health News (OHN). He worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for over 30 years. During his federal career, he occupied a number of senior health Information Technology (IT) management positions within VA Headquarters and in the field.