Veterans hospitals are still using an outdated computer system to do much of their clinical care, financial functions and infrastructure.  MS-DOS, the forerunner to Microsoft Windows that was mostly abandoned in the 1990’s, is still used by VA hospitals for discharge summaries, progress notes, and other clinical documents.

Senator Pat Roberts, who met with officials of the Robert J. Dole Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Wichita, said hospital workers complained about having to use a computer system based on long-outdated DOS – Disk Operating System software.

The trouble with the VA’s MS-DOS operating system, called VistA (Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture), is that it’s command based and can be very difficult to navigate.  For example, “71” takes VA workers to the page that let’s them enter time off.  If they don’t know that “71” get you there, they wouldn’t necessarily be able to find it unless they wanted to peruse the 500 page user manual.

Roberts also said, from his meeting with officials from the VA in Wichita, that the computer system for scheduling appointments is obsolete.

In fact, scheduling an appointment on the VA’s computer system takes more than a dozen steps and a number of different users. According to the VA’s VistA user manual, requesting an appointment or consult starts with the doctor ordering the appointment.  Next, the consult service gets notified that the consult got ordered.  Then, the service has to indicate if it was received or else they can choose to discontinue or cancel.  If the order is accepted, the appointment is held, however, “it is fairly common for a consult to be sent to the wrong clinic,” according to the document.

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Another issue with the computer system is that it identifies veterans using the first initial of their last name and the last four digits of their social security number.  One problem with this, however, is that occasionally there are veterans that have the same last four digits of their SS number and the same first initial of their last name causing confusion.

Most hospitals today are using Windows 7, Windows 8, or open-source software like Linux.  With more than $54 billion allocated to the VA this year, it’s surprising that they continue to use a long outdated operating system.  What do you think?

  • Very true. I just signed on with the VA and they use a DOS based system called VISTA for all personal data management. I hate it.

  • VistA is an electronic charting system written in a language called MUMPS. DOS is an operating system. VistA was created in the 80’s at a time when all computer applications looked like DOS. The only similarity however is that interfaces consisted of a monochrome display and cryptic commands, (VistA interface does not respond to any known DOS commands). Albeit VistA is an outdated system, it can in no way be compared to DOS.

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