From relieving people of repetitive tasks, to building everything around us that shapes our lifestyle, and on to transformation of volumes of data into new insights and perspectives, software has become the new feedstock for the human evolution. All facets of life are touched by software, and healthcare is no exception.
The Complex Web of Health Industry
The health and social care industry is a highly fragmented and complex industry with medical practitioners, nurses, health professionals, hospitals, clinics, government, and non-government agencies all providing health services.
The spectrum of healthcare providers range from individual clinicians such as general practitioners to large monolithic entities, such as the National Health Service in the UK, which is the third largest employer in the world today.
Health and social care providers offer a complex and diverse range of facilities and services. By the nature of these services, the healthcare industry is driven by large and varied amounts of data which in turn require varied and complex IT systems to manage this data. Generally, these systems come under the umbrella term of eHealth. While there is no consensus on the exact definition of eHealth, two example definitions are:
“…the cost-effective and secure use of information and communication technologies in support of the health and health-related fields including healthcare, health surveillance and health education, knowledge and research.” –The World Health Organization (WHO)
“…the use of modern information and communication technologies to meet needs of citizens, patients, healthcare professionals, healthcare providers, as well as policy makers.” –The European Commission
Whatever way people choose to define eHealth, it generally encompasses:
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.