Open Source Enlightenment Needed to End 'Dark Ages' of Health IT

Tony Shannon | Digital Health | January 11, 2017

Your article - "Whatever happened to Open Source in 2016?" highlights the brief vogue that open source recently enjoyed in the NHS – 2014-15 – and now seems to have lost. It raises some good questions and important issues, though I sense some broader perspective may be worth adding here. It’s worth remembering that healthcare is a well-established science – the first medical school established in the 9th century.  While information technology is still a young science – the first MSc in software engineering dates from 1979.

Tony ShannonWe know that the relatively risk averse culture of healthcare differs very significantly from the frenetic pace of innovation we see in the software world. While UK Primary Care computing has been a world leader in digitisation the more complex hospital sector has been much slower to computerize.  The key factor being the complex interplay between the people, process and technology factors involved.

If we look at the very limited results that the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) over a 10-year period (2004-2014) we can see that healthcare IT is really hard to do at scale. So the changes that are needed in this field to really bring the broad healthcare sector into the information age are happening around us, but will take time to pan out. With regards to the important role of open source in healthcare, you will know that I’ve been championing this cause for some time. Your readers may be interested in this related piece from 2010...