A Hospital Chooses VistA EMR Over The Giants

Posted on January 15, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Here’s a story out of the pages of Forbes which should make open source advocates happy. In it, we hear the tale of a northern California hospital which decided to buck corporate trends and go with VistA rather than pay for a big-ticket EMR from a vendor giant.

Three years ago, at the outset of its EMR search, Oroville Hospital was going down the same path as most of peers. But the CEO wasn’t terribly happy with that path. While the 153-bed hospital had shortlisted giants like Cerner, McKesson and Meditech as possible candidates, chief executive Robert Wentz was worried about the sky-high cost, disruption and — as a smaller facility — lack of clout with vendors, Forbes reports.

Shunning conventional choices, Wentz decided to take a risk on VistA. Not only did he go with the less-conservative choice, he decided not to partner with companies like Medsphere that help hospitals integrate and develop VistA to meet their needs. Instead, he chose to work with independent VistA experts (a rogue crew with day jobs of their own) rather than be tied to a particular vendor.

To coordinate the project, Wentz worked with the non-profit WorldVistA and Vista Expertise Network, both of which embrace hundreds of programmers with VistA smarts. Wentz worked with programmers from the two groups, not only to build  out the hospital’s EMR but also to develop additional add-ons such as an e-prescribing package. WorldVistA CIO helped Oroville get its package certified for Meaningful Use, which brought in $5 million.

Now, three years into the project, Oroville has spent about $10 million on its EMR, about one-half of what it expected to spend on the giant EMR-makers’ software.

Now, it’s worth bearing in mind that Wentz and his IT team had to be more flexible than they would have if an army of consultants from Cerner or Epic had run the show. (I love the part in the Forbes story where a programmer told Wentz he had to end the call so he could make a trip to Costco. Classic.)  But Oroville seems to have reaped the benefits.  I wonder if this story will lead to more VistA adoption…