Stability of Propietary EMR Vendors vs. Open Source EMR

Posted on January 6, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In the comments of one of my open source (free) EMR posts, we started an interesting discussion about the way that you evaluate a proprietary vendor and how the same methods of evaluation aren’t always possible once you start talking about an open source EMR. To keep things simple, I’ll just focus on one part of the evaluation of an EMR vendor: Stability.

I’m not talking about whether the EMR vendor’s software product is stable. I’m talking about the stability of the company behind the EMR vendor. There are a lot of aspects to consider, but probably the most important is how successful the company is doing financially. Are they making new sells? Is the EMR vendor expanding the business or is their business contracting? Are their current customers renewing or fleeing to other software products? At the end of the day, you’re basically making a judgement on the financial viability of the company. No one wants to deal with the challenge of an EMR vendor going bankrupt, being sold, or going out of business (see my previous post about when a SaaS EMR goes out of business). So, this is a really important issue to consider. Your EMR vendor becomes your partner and you want a reliable one.

The problem is that the same analysis can’t be done on an open source EMR. There is no company behind an open source EMR (usually) and so you can’t look at the company to make a prediction on whether the open source EMR software will be around a couple years from now. Instead you have to look to other indicators.

The most important point to consider with an open source EMR is the health of the community surrounding the open source EMR. If the community is strong, then you’ll see some amazing things happen. If the community is weak, then the open source EMR will still be around in a few years, but no improvements to the software will be made. The way technology progresses means that your software must improve or it will be outdated in a couple years time.

What makes a strong open source community? It can come in a variety of ways. Here’s just a few of them:
-Number of software releases that are made
-Method for delivering software releases
-Number of people with commit privileges on the project
-Number of people contributing code to the project
-Commercial entities backing the project
-Online activity and discussion around the project
-Software downloads over time

I’m sure there’s a lot more. I hope that people like open source EMR fanatic, Fred Trotter, will add to my short list.

It’s just as important to evaluate the health of the open source EMR community as it is for you to evaluate the financial stability of a commercial EMR vendor.