Leeds Tries Open Source Software for Patient Records

Michael Cross | Guardian.co.UK | May 10, 2011

We can't yet know the details the NHS information and technology strategies expected to emerge from the Department of Health later this year. However we can be pretty sure of the direction of travel: away from the already disowned "rip and replace" philosophy of the old National Programme for IT in England and towards a world in which healthcare teams create electronic patient records by interlinking existing specialist systems, based wherever possible on open standards and software. And with little or no new central funding to make that happen.

For a glimpse today of how the future may look, a good place to start is Leeds Teaching Hospitals, one of England's largest trusts. It has developed a web portal that allows accident and emergency teams to call up clinical and administrative data from specialist systems, all done with open source. Dr Tony Shannon, the trust's clinical lead for informatics, believes the trust's "integration and standards-based" approach should prove cheaper than that promoted by the big systems vendors...

...Dr Shannon has also been a leading figure in the Open EHR project, an international effort to build an electronic health record based on modular open source components, filling what he says is a gap between what systems vendors are offering and what is needed for clinical care.

After leaving CfH 18 months ago, Shannon has had a chance to put some of his ideas into action at Leeds. "There's no appetite here for rip and replace LSP systems," he says, referring to the local service providers used by Connecting for Health to install new EHRs. Instead, he has won initial support for a "portal and integration project", starting in the casualty department. The idea is to build a web based open source portal functioning as a single front end to the collection of systems used throughout the hospital.

Getting backing for open source "took some effort", he concedes. However after beginning in earnest only last August, the Leeds project has now gone live in the emergency department in what Dr Shannon calls a "first phase test". He adds: "Considering we built it from scratch in nine months, that's not bad."