Chuck Hagel – One of the Fathers of VistA

Tom Munnecke | Tom Munnecke's Eclectica | January 6, 2013
I am pleased to read that Chuck Hagel has been nominated to the position of Secretary of Defense.  He was the Deputy Director of the VA when I worked for the Loma Linda VA Hospital, working on what would become the VistA Electronic Health Record System, one of the largest and most successful EHRs.  Starting with very humble beginnings as a “skunkworks”, Chuck played a key role in helping to evolve our early back room prototypes into a VA-wide electronic health record that has won many awards and accolades by physicians.

I was part of the small group of programmers hired by Ted O’Neill to develop a decentralized hospital computer system.  This caused huge tensions with the central data processing folks, who wanted to centralize everything in a massive computer in Austin, Texas.

VistA blazed many trails in health IT.  It was the first to integrate SMTP email (I worked directly with internet pioneer Jon Postel , writing one of the first SMTP servers.)  We used what would today would be called Agile Development, starting with a prototype that was “good enough” and getting it into the hands of real users – the more feedback, the better.  We pioneered Open Systems thinking, making our software public domain and collaborating with Indian Health Service, DoD, National Health Service in Finland, and others.  We pioneered social networking/digital conferencing with VA FORUM, which at one time, supported 50,000 VA employees, all learning/teaching about the system, submitting bug reports, and just plain communicating with each other (a rare circumstance in mega-bureaucracies)...