Editor's Corner

Suggesting that a private healthcare provider switch from proprietary software to open source-based applications is one thing. But when an official affiliated with as august a body as the United Nations suggests that all member countries adopt open source for their healthcare applications, that's a much bigger deal. Not only should this news send a delicious shiver up the backbones of the Slashdot crowd, it should give commercial healthcare providers yet another reason to weigh their application platform strategy. Sure, public health agencies grapple with different security, interoperability and budgetary issues--an important triumvirate--but at one level, computing is computing. If a world-class organization's health branch is officially backing open source, I for one wouldn't take that for granted.

Apparently, Louis-Dominique Ouedraogo, retiring inspector from the U.N. Joint Inspection unit, recently told an audience in Barcelona that countries are much better served if they make the open source switch, according to the British Journal of Healthcare Computing & Information Management. Ouedraogo, who has responsibility for healthcare computing within the U.N., cited successful open source public healthcare implementations around the world, including in Spain, South America, South Africa, Malaysia and in the U.S., the state of Massachusetts.

Ouedraogo's comments aren't a tremendous surprise to readers in private healthcare organizations, of course. A growing number of healthcare IT players are fighting the open source fight, saying that this approach is just what an industry bedeviled by thick-walled information silos needs to bring things together. This includes  several (predictably) independent development projects, such as the Open Healthcare Group's open source EMR, X-Chart. And also not to be missed is the recent initiative by IBM, which said in August that it would open-sourcing technology to the Eclipse Foundation's Open Healthcare Framework. IBM dipped its toe in the open source healthcare waters in 2005 with its Interoperable Healthcare Information Infrastructure project, which uses service-oriented architecture for systems integration. Eclipse OHF is trying to create an open, standards-based platform for broad healthcare industry use.

Still, there's something particularly interesting and noteworthy about a public official with--presumably--no dog in the fight standing up to promote open source approaches. While public health organizations, like private ones, have legacy infrastructure investments to worry about, I'd argue that they aren't as married to a particular application development platform or operating system as private companies (whose stakeholders are often married to Microsoft technology), giving their vote an air of greater objectivity. So I see this as a fairly big deal. Sure, it probably won't change the day-to-day decisions your facility makes, but it may be worth finding out whether Louis-Dominique knows something we don't. - Anne

P.S.  If you're interested in chatting about open source healthcare development issues with other IT pros, you may want to join the OpenHealth discussion list.