Is Open Source Technology the Next Big Health IT Trend?

Shameem C Hameed
Shameem C Hameed

Guest post by Shameem C. Hameed, founder of ZH Healthcare.

The past five years have seen monumental changes in the world of healthcare information technology. As 2013 comes to a close, it seems appropriate to look forward to the developing trends for 2014 and beyond and how they will impact vendors, providers and patients.

Open Source Technology Use and Development Will Accelerate

The continuing acceptance and use of open source software is the most important healthcare trend, since it ties directly into every point on this list. Open source software has become part of the healthcare mainstream and is used in many areas of the healthcare industry. Open source software is behind everything from the EHR system doctors use to enter patient data to the web browser or smartphones and tablets patients use to check their records through patient portals. Even the much talked about Healthcare.gov website utilizes open source software.

The benefits of open source development over proprietary software will continue to fuel its expansion over the next few years. Open source software has many advantages for providers and patients, including interoperability, speed of problem resolution, flexibility and more frequent updates.

An example of how open source software provides these benefits can be found in the area of EHR systems. One of the most common complaints by physicians and staff about EHR software is that the software is difficult to use. Now that EHR adoption has become widespread, there is much more thought and resources going into refining the user interface. With proprietary software, the amount of developer resources that can put into refinements may be limited to that one vendor’s resources. With open source software, countless companies and individuals are constantly collaborating to make the software easier to operate and more user-friendly for everyone.

Patient Engagement Will Increase

Patient engagement involves sharing medical records with the patient and other providers, and giving the patient more control over their healthcare choices. Studies indicate patients who are engaged are more likely to follow through with their treatment, ask questions rather than blindly follow the doctor’s advice and have better long-term prognosis.

Healthcare providers can increase patient engagement in a number of ways. Providers can make it easy for the patient to access their data through Internet, and even mobile-friendly, patient portals. They can also be proactive about enrolling patients with long-term health issues like diabetes or heart disease into programs that send regular reminders for important events through email or text messages.

Cloud-based EHR Acceptance Will Continue to Grow

Healthcare providers are moving away from paper records and locally installed EHRs toward cloud-based SaaS solutions. Locally installed systems are expensive for small healthcare providers to set up and maintain, with unpredictable costs. If hardware fails or new software is incompatible with the system, the practice must invest time and resources into getting it working.

Cloud-based systems allow practices to subscribe to a hosted system that is managed and maintained by the EHR vendor at a remote location. The costs are consistent, and scaling up is simply a matter of upgrading a subscription. EHR vendors and cloud solution providers can establish solutions that are easily accessible to those that have credentials and the risk of unauthorized access to protected health information is no greater than a traditional network.

More Information Will Be Available Through Interconnecting Healthcare Information Grid

Up until fairly recently, healthcare providers saw patient data as belonging to the practice and not the patient. They may have been reluctant to share patient records with other providers outside their network for fear of patients going elsewhere. Now that the government has put in place incentives for providers to share patient information, which is an element of incentive programs and requirements for Meaningful Use, much of this reluctance has disappeared.

While the government has set basic standards for interoperability, many providers are still using systems created during this period of limited information exchange. To continue receiving the Meaningful Use incentives, healthcare providers and EHR vendors will need to adapt as the requirements change.

The current health information exchange landscape is made up of a patchwork of local organizations. In some areas, providers can choose between multiple exchanges, while in other areas there is only one. Over the next few years, interoperability will play a major role for local healthcare exchanges to unify and connect with one another to form a national network. This will allow healthcare data to flow seamlessly between providers.

Healthcare is notoriously slow to accept new technologies, but with current mandates being placed upon providers and organizations, they have no choice but to adapt. As with all changes there is risk and opportunity.  While risk should never be ignored, the opportunity for improved access to information and patient health outcomes is extraordinary.

Shameem C. Hameed is the co-founder of ZH Healthcare, a provider of innovative OpenEMR-based electronic health records and fully integrated revenue cycle management solutions to healthcare providers worldwide. Since founding ZH Healthcare in 2008, Hameed has been the driving force behind product development and architecture and is responsible for the growth of the company. ZH Healthcare has made significant contributions to the OpenEMR software movement including the development of revenue cycle management features to enhance productivity, a patient portal to improve office and patient communication, an eRx integration, lab integration, and a notes editor that has revolutionized how physicians chart their patient visits.

2 comments on “Is Open Source Technology the Next Big Health IT Trend?”

A very good article. I think Healthcare will certainly move in this direction and those EHR companies agile and forward thinking enough to stay ahead will excel.

I think its the large vendors who will be applying the brakes and lobbying to ensure they keep their market share. Unfortunately for them it’s more about the shareholders profit than healthcare….

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