Healthcare must open its eyes to open source
Recently I attended a product demonstration at my local Apple store where we were presented with an iPad-based EHR solution. There were lots of oohs and aahs as the demonstrator did a fictional patient visit, recorded the symptoms and automatically generated a bill (with appropriate ICD-9 or 10 codes – you pick!). I want to write more about the vendor, HealthFusion in a later post, so I'm not going to go too much in to what I saw there and how the company is doing some impressive work.
Here is what struck me: The app was great. Doctors and CIOs in the audience were practically salivating over goodies such as the ability to take a picture and amend it to a patient's file or the way the program provided options to quickly build a patient report. However, the cynic in me could only think that as great as a web-based app is, we've been building things with these capabilities in other markets for years. What impressed me more is that the app in question supports HL7, the open standard that will allow all of these systems to talk to each other. That said, this is something that the healthcare industry has needed since IT became a big thing – and it's something that's no stranger in most other industries.
In an article on the blog HIT Consultant, Edmund Billing, MD, takes a look at the ecosystems created by Apple and Google and suggests how the healthcare industry might want to take a page from their books. Billing argues that "the difference between health IT and every other progressive, mature industry is the application of open source, open standards and, most importantly, open platforms." We need to be rooting for open standards, in other words. Yes, it's great that your app can use my phone's camera to photograph my myraid boils, lesions, and rashes*- most apps can. Will it talk to any healthcare application on the network though a common framework?
Rich Roth, VP of Strategic Innovation at Dignity Health writes in Venture Beat about how open standards are benefiting his organization as well. He writes that "By sharing our data and doing away with the old culture of animosity between hospitals, insurers, and doctors, we saved money and improved patient outcomes." The federal government has thrown its hat in to the ring as well – healthcare.gov was coded through an open-source collaboration. That might not seem like a huge deal, but to me it is. When the government's portal to all healthcare information relies on an open-source standards-driven design, it shows that they have their heads in the game.
Whether it's the standards that allow programs to speak to each other or the code of government information portals, open standards have a track record of improving access, innovation and quality of information. The developers and engineers in the marketplace have shown they can make software that is up to the task what is important now is to see a framework of open standards being developed, adopted, and supported. It worked for other industries, so now it's time to work for healthcare.
(*As of press time I am boil, leision and rash-free!)