Open Source Electronic Health Records: A Cost Solution For Hospitals

Zina Moukheiber | Forbes | August 24, 2012

When Oroville Hospital decided to digitize its patient medical records three years ago, like all hospitals, it shopped around for a vendor. Electronic health records giant Cerner was on the list, so were McKesson and Meditech. But Oroville Hospital’s chief executive Robert Wentz got cold feet. For the 153-bed Northern California hospital, it meant shelling out a fortune, and falling behind on cash flow because of billing interruption during implementation. More worrisome, as a small customer it would have next to no clout with big vendors, in case it needed to adapt the software to fit its own needs. Wentz wanted more flexibility.

So he did something almost unheard of for a health care executive: he went open source. As the saying goes in this conservative industry, no one gets fired for picking Epic. Wentz’s decision is not for the squeamish or the straight-laced. It forced long-time hospital administrators with tight schedules and deadlines to loosen up and collaborate with a network of free agents—open source programmers who voluntarily support a publicly available electronic health record called VistA (Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture).

For Wentz, it was worth it. At a time when hospitals are spending millions to digitize, open source EHR software is an alternative option to costly and proprietary systems. Open source is already widely used in manufacturing, finance, and retail. Oroville Hospital is completing implementation of its EHR, a process that took three years and cost an estimated $10 million (including hardware)—probably half the price of a commercial EHR...

Open Health News' Take: 

This is a great article by Zina Moukheiber. For those who want to read more details about the Oroville Hospital VistA implementation, Open Health News has published several articles. The major ones are these:

Oroville VistA Implementation Raises the Bar

Oroville Hospital Contributes $150K to WorldVistA

VA To Invest Billions in Open Source Transition

At a time that US hospitals are going bankrupt in record numbers, a direct result of expensive proprietary EHR implementations, it is time for executives to look at this higher quality, lower cost alternative.

Roger A. Maduro, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Open Health News.