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Harnessing Open Source Technology to Drive Outcomes in Healthcare

Posted on July 22, 2014 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.

I’ve long been a fan of open source technologies. My blogs are run and created almost entirely on open source software. In fact, I first wrote about open source EMR on this blog back in January of 2006. We’ve come a long way since then with Vista being the top open source EHR in the hospital world and OpenEMR leading the pack in the ambulatory world.

We’re starting to see more and more application of open source technology in other areas of healthcare IT beyond EMR as well. There are some really amazing advantages to a thriving open source community. I think the key there is to have a thriving open source community behind the project. It’s not enough to just say that your software is open source. If you don’t have a great community behind the project, then the open source piece doesn’t do too much for you.

With that said, I was really intrigued by this whitepaper from Achieve Health that talks about why they are applying the popular open source Drupal framework to healthcare. While I’ve mostly used WordPress for the things I’ve done, I’ve had a chance to use Drupal for a few projects and I’m really intrigued by the idea of applying the Drupal framework to healthcare.

This section of the whitepaper describes their vision really well:

Drupal is not a replacement for legacy IT systems from EMRs, Billing, Practice Management etc., but rather an extension to these systems. Through sophisticated integrations Drupal can enhance the functionality of each system concurrently. While there is no one panacea for the trials ahead, Drupal is highly capable of rising to meet many of the existing and future challenges the industry has to offer.

In the whitepaper they mention open source success stories like Pfizer, Florida Hospitals, Amerigroup Health Services, and Alliance Imaging. I think we’ll continue to hear of more and more open source success stories in healthcare for the reasons outlined in the whitepaper Harnessing Open Source Technology to Drive Outcomes in Healthcare. It takes a bit of a different mentality to go the open source route, but those who do are usually very satisfied. I think healthcare IT could really benefit from this shift in mentality.

Healthcare Faces Massive Cybersecurity Risks

Posted on December 27, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

When a consumer publication like The Washington Post — hardly an insider journal of computing — picks out your industry and slams it for having poor cybersecurity, you know something’s amiss.

The newspaper has just published a report, following a year-long cybersecurity investigation, arguing that healthcare is one of the most vulnerable industries in the U.S., making it a tasty target for terrorists, black-hat hackers and criminals.

It’s rather embarrassing, but it’s hard to argue with the Post’s conclusion that healthcare data security isn’t what it could be. A few data points:

* Researchers are finding that healthcare institutions routinely fail to fix known bugs in aging software, something other industries have largely overcome.

* Providers are making careless use of such public cybertools;  the paper cites the example of the University of Chicago medical center, which at one point operated an unsecured Dropbox site for new residents managing care through their iPads (with a single user name and password published online, yet!)

* According to Post research, open source system OpenEMR “has scores of security flaws that make it easy prey for hackers”

* In perhaps the scariest example, the paper notes that clinicians routinely work around cybersecurity measures to get their job done.

Another factor contributing to cybersecurity holes is confusion about the FDA’s position on security. While the agency actually wants vendors to update FDA-approved device interfaces and systems, vendors often believe that the FDA bars them from updating device software, the Post found.

That leaves devices, especially defibrillators and insulin pumps, open to attacks. Researchers have been able to find these devices, linked to the web in the clear, simply by using a specialized search engine.

As wireless medical devices and smartphones, iPads and Android devices creep into the mix, cybersecurity vulnerabilities are likely to get worse, not better.  I wonder whether we’ll need to see a cybersecurity disaster take place before the industry catches up to, say, financial services?

OpenEMR Passes HITECH EHR Certification

Posted on August 20, 2011 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.

LinuxMedNews just posted the announcement that OpenEMR is now a certified EHR. Here’s the quote from their announcement:

It’s official! OpenEMR has passed all ONC certification tests as a fully qualified emr that can be used to attest for incentive moneys. The official posting: http://onc-chpl.force.com/ehrcert/EHRProductDetail?id=a0X30000003mNwTEAU&retURL= appeared on the website 2011/08/19. Congratulations to all involved! OpenEMR 4.1 should be ready for download in a few weeks.

This is a really big announcement for the open source ambulatory EHR community. A number of other open source EHR are certified, but they’re mostly for the hospital EHR space. So, it’s a great thing for OpenEMR to provide an open source EHR to the ambulatory space.

Plus, I have to admit that it’s pretty great that an open source community can pull together the funds to actually be certified. The programming and development time is one thing, but getting the $20-30k to be certified is a big deal that I’m sure took a lot of effort. I actually wish I knew more about the process they used to achieve the EHR certification.

Now, OpenEMR users better start digging into resources like Meaningful Use Mondays. EHR Certification is the first step, but showing meaningful use of that certified EHR is the next one.

Big thanks to an avid follower of OpenEMR – Jojo the HITMAN who informed me of the news.

EMR Safety Event Reporting

Posted on December 1, 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.

The PDR Network in partnership with the iHealth Alliance has launched a new reporting system for adverse EHR events called EHREvent.org. Some of these adverse EMR events might include: software problems, inadequate user training, security breaches and near-misses. Here’s a short quote from the press release about the new website:

Using a standardized online format, EHRevent will collect reports from physicians and other health care providers who use EHRs, and create reports that medical societies, professional liability carriers and government agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will use to help educate providers on the potential challenges that EHR systems may bring.

The form breaks out the EHR safety events into 4 categories:
Incident: An EHR event that reached a patient, whether or not the patient was harmed.
Near Miss: An EHR event that is not believed to have impacted a patient.
Non-Patient Issue: An incident or near miss that impacted staff, employee(s), visitor(s).
Unsafe Condition: A circumstance that increases the probability of an EHR event.

I tried out there form and they had a lot of the EHR vendors listed, but there were a few missing. For example, it didn’t have the popular free open source EMR: OpenEMR. I wonder where they got their list. Especially since the list is changing so rapidly.

The form was relatively simple, but it did have like 9 screens that you had to answer. After the fifth I was feeling like it was a bit lengthy and I was just submitting a test. Although, when an adverse EHR event happens, users are usually pretty motivated to tell their story. At least they will be until they get to the page on the event reporting where they have to turn over all their personal information. I’m sure many will be turned off by that little detail.

One more quote about EHR and safety events from the press release:

Alan Lembitz, M.D., vice president of Patient Safety and Risk Management for COPIC Insurance Company, added “Our experience indicates that EHRs have the capacity either to induce or to reduce medical errors in very unique ways, and we have seen data that indicates that EHR adoption may reduce physician liability. It will be increasingly important to understand best practices to improve patient safety for EHRs and for their users, and EHRevent will help both.”

It’s going to be interesting to see how this evolves. Is this something that EMR vendors will support. It seems like e-MDs is on board since Michael Stearns, MD and CEO of e-MDs is quoted in the press release.

Over the years a lot of people have asked me where they could report a situation related to their EHR. This seems to be the best we have so far. As the press release points out, “Professional liability carriers who insure doctors against malpractice claims are among the strongest supporters of EHRevent.” Of course they are. The more information they can get the better they can do their job. We’ll see how many doctors and practices get on board and support this type of EHR reporting initiative.

Why Buy Open Source (Free) EMR Software

Posted on December 15, 2009 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.

Yes, I completely understand the irony of the title. That’s the beauty that is open source software. I’ve often talked about my fandom for open source software and it seems that open source EMR software is finally gaining some significant momentum.

As I was looking over the Open EMR website I stumbled upon a page created by the Open Source Medical Softare organization about the advantages of OpenEMR (an open source EMR package). I found the list interesting and so here’s my modified version of their list of OpenEMR advantages that should apply to any well done open source EMR:
Corporate buy-outs – I’m sure that Misys EMR users will appreciate this one. It’s never fun when your EMR software is bought out by someone else.
Bankruptcy – This is similar to a buy-out often, but sometimes can go even worse with prolonged periods with little support from your EMR vendor.
Vendor lock-in – Definitely isn’t in your EMR vendor’s best interest to make your data portable to another EMR system.
Sunsetting – If you’ve ever gone through this it’s time consuming and seems to provide little benefit (at least initially).
Duplication of engineering costs – Many people argue that EMR software should just adopt open APIs (which is a great thing), but it does meant that there’s often duplication of engineering costs.
Meta-applications built on substrate without asking permission: simulators, bio-surveillance, yet-to-be-conceived apps
No one vendor with enough engineering resources – I’m not sure open source EMR movements have beat out the engineering resources of a major EMR vendor, but it seems like it’s getting close to that point.
Corporate agenda not in harmony with customer needs – Could this really be?

I’m sure there are other reasons too. Although, it is interesting to consider some of the ways open source EMR software is able to solve some of the major pain points people feel when working with an EMR vendor.

OpenEMR Success Story

Posted on November 25, 2009 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.

A little while back I read an interesting EMR success story using the open source EMR appropriately named OpenEMR. The story is by Joe Holzer and I got his permission to republish it here for all to enjoy. You can find more about Joe on his website (not the normal website) or at his email im@holzerent.com I think you’ll enjoy his story and some of the unique ways he used OpenEMR to address some challenging problems along with his passion for open source EMR software:

I have implemented OpenEMR in a number of sites, and I advise on its use in their forums at Sourceforge.net. My wife Lynne was my first “client”, and her use of FREE OpenEMR allowed her to eliminate all need for my services as her business office manager, as well as all clearinghouse costs, as it prepares both X12 and CMS 1500 directly.

Because she has a house call practice, and G3 dependability is a joke, I converted the Linux web-based OpenEMR to stand-alone on her windows tablet notebook. That works especially well with the VPN I used, since her biller is at another location entirely, but can do the billing whenever Lynne is at a hotspot without Lynne even having to be aware of it. And every night it backs itself up to our server, which is always accessible by the biller for looking at information which is no more than 24 hours old.

What Lynne gets in her practice is first and foremost the ability to eliminate all the lugging of paper records and the risk of their damage by the elements, etc., to say nothing of the nightly HIPAA backup security which paper could never afford. She uses the hotspots to connect to Allscripts for her FREE e-Rx so she can get the Medicare 2% incentive for 2009, which was simple to setup in OpenEMR both because it is open source, so can be made to do whatever the user wants for greatest efficiency and effectivity for their individual practice, and because it is designed for flexibility in configuration. In fact, the latest version, 3.1.0 just released, is the ONLY EMR system I am aware of which is operable in the native language of the user on a shared system with multiple users. So an inner-city clinic with primarily latino population, but also english speakers, need not have ALL its staff be bi-lingual. And yet it is STILL FREE.

You can see some of the support I have provided others as a volunteer at the OpenEMR forums at Sourceforge.net as ideaman911.

That ANY intelligent user would pay for a proprietary system merely makes me question their grades in economics. Checkout oemr.org for details.