The Right Open Source (Free) EMR Model

Posted on January 27, 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.

I’ve had a huge interest in the open source EMR and Free EMR movement.  Turns out my readers are just as interested in a Free EMR as I am.  However, we probably have different reasoning.  I think the power of open source is in having a crowd of people that are all contributing and sharing in the software development.

The problem I’ve had with most open source EMR projects is that I haven’t seen any that have had a large and committed enough community to really sustain development.  Granted, it’s been a few months/years since I’ve really looked into most of the open source EMR packages, so please correct me if there are some open source EMR communities that I should consider looking at again, but I digress.  My point is that without a strong developer community, open source is not a very good alternative.

I recently came across elementalClinic which I believe is using the open source EMR development model correctly.  I’ve never used the elementalClinic EMR so I can’t comment on its featureset (although it looks like it’s a mental health EMR), but what I do find interesting is how their funding development of their open source EMR.

In a recent comment on EMR and HIPAA, Alex said that elementalClinic has 150 paying customers that are using the software with somewhere around 500 people downloading the software.  This seems like the perfect model for developing an Open Source EMR.  150 paying customers that provide a solid foundation development team for the open source project.  Now, I think that 500 is a rather small number of downloads, but is a good start to creating a vibrant community of open source developers that will build on top of the foundation 150 paying customers.

Many would wonder why the 150 paying customers would fund everyone else downloading it for free.  There are a number of different reasons as far as premium support, custom features, etc that they might be paying to receive.  However, the best reasons is because by leaving it open source they can utlize the development and feedback from those using the free, open source download of the EMR.

Plus, having the license be open source means that any one of those 150 paying customers could decide to take the code from their current EMR install and take it in another direction.  In open source they call it a fork in the development.  How easy would it be to create a foundation EMR with a fork for every specialty: pediatrics, oncology, urology, etc.  Would be pretty neat and a great reason to do open source.