Can An Open Source Electronic Health Record Ever Be Ready For Prime-Time?

Zina Moukheiber | Forbes | August 29, 2012

In October, the Open Source Health Record Agent (OSEHRA) will hold its first summit, bringing together the government and open source developers, two radically different camps united in their goal to improve a lauded electronic health record in need of a face lift—the Veterans Affairs’ VistA. “We believe open source will help us innovate quickly,” says Mike O’Neill who sits on the board of OSEHRA, and is senior advisor to the Director, Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative....

To modernize VistA,VA chief information officer Roger Baker and chief technology officer Peter Levin made a smart decision—and probably the only sensible one. They turned to open source developers. Last August, the VA and the Department of Defense formed OSEHRA, opening up VistA’s code, and defining terms of collaboration.  “It’s like having little atolls, and then Australia joins,” says Edmund Billings, Medsphere’s chief medical officer. The VA adopted a business-friendly license where contributions can be copyrighted.

The impact can have repercussions beyond the VA health care system in terms of access to an up-to-date and low cost EHR. “In some ways it’s similar to generic drugs,” says Seong Mun, OSEHRA’s president...The VA’s initiative holds potential, by helping build a marketplace. “It’s a ground war,” says Billings. “When you get a critical mass of hospitals using open source, then others will adopt.”

Open Health News' Take: 

This is the second article on VistA by Zina Moukheiber published in Forbes magazine.  The first one focused on the extraordinary story of Oroville Hospital in California. Oroville Hospital self-deployed VistA with help from the VistA community. Oroville's VistA implementation has been a great success and the hospital is profitable and prospering, in sharp contrast to hundreds of hospitals that made the mistake of implementing expensive and "locked-down" proprietary EHR solutions and are now facing bankrupty or will soon be. 

In this article Moukheiber correctly focuses on the critial role that OSEHRA is going to play in building an ecosystem around VistA where both the Federal government and the private sector can collaborate in the continuing developement of VistA. As I reported in this article in Open Health News, the leadership of the VA, as well as OSEHRA's Seong Mun, sought the advice of the open source community earlier this year by presenting at the Open Source Think Tank conference in Napa, CA. The VA is clearly following the advice of the open source community at large. OSEHRA's upcoming conference in Washington will be a golden opportunity to bring together all the disparate efforts of the community into a unified ecosystem that will benefit all.

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