The NHS is spending nearly £300,000 on an exchange programme with the US Veteran’s Health Administration to investigate its use of open source software and telehealth.

Information obtained by EHI via the Freedom of Information Act reveals that the Department of Health allocated £285,000 over three years, “to support the NHS and their work with US Veteran Affairs in relation to digital health solutions.”

NHS England head of innovation strategy and programmes, Rachel Cashman, told EHI the responsibility for the three-year exchange programme with the VA had passed from the DH to NHS England.

It previously sat with the 3millionlives team and focused on telehealth and mobile working. NHS England is now taking stock of work done so far and what the exchange should focus on going forward, taking into account NHS England’s broader strategy.

One area being explored is the creation of an NHS version of the administration’s open source electronic medical record, VistA.

Ahead of guidance issued this week on creating integrated digital care records, senior figures from NHS England visited the US as part of the exchange to see VistA in action.

Impressed with what they saw, the guidance says NHS England will spend some of the £260m Technology Fund on developing it for the UK market.

“We are looking to adopt some of the ethos behind [VistA’s] creation and potentially part, or all, of the technical product, in combination with others, to generate ‘NHS VistA’,” the guidance says.

A team of experts has been working with US representatives of VistA this month to test the possibility of anglicising the software.

Beverly Bryant, NHS England’s director of strategic systems and technology and lead on the new guidance, told EHI that some district general hospitals feel that the available proprietary software is too big and expensive for their needs.

An open source option reduces costs and creates a mixed economy for trusts to choose from.

While the project is called NHS VistA, the ultimate product may have very few elements of the US product and include elements of existing NHS open source projects, she explained.

Project director of the open source EPR project at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Bill Aylward, said it looked at VistA a while ago.

“While it does have a great deal of functionality, a lot of it is not required, and the effort required to customise it to UK requirements may exceed the effort required to add the same functionality to existing open source efforts,” he told EHI.

The original aim of the exchange with the VHA was to explore its extensive use of telehealth and mobile working.

The 3millionlives initiative, which aims to have three million telehealth users by 2017, organised three trips to the US focused on the administration’s telehealth and mobile working strategies. A fourth delegation flew to the US on Saturday, which Cashman is part of.

Earlier this year, a 2020health report called “making connections” marked the launch of the three year exchange programme between the two organisations.