- Organizations are currently faced with an onslaught of advancing HIT infrastructure technology that needs to be developed to meet each organization’s unique needs. Healthcare open source projects are essential to developing and deploying new and innovative technology.
Open source software makes its code freely accessible to anyone. Users can access and modify source code under a licensing agreement and modify it to meet their needs. This modified code can then be shared back with the community so it can be used by others to help improve other infrastructure tools.
Open standards encourage competing implementations of the same standard, rather than creating competing platforms. This can benefit consumers, according to a report published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
The report stated that an open standard must be developed using all of the following requirements:
- The standard specification document must be publicly available, either free of charge or at a nominal fee
- The standard must be owned and managed by an official standardization body or by an open group or consortium, and must not be owned or controlled by a single party, and no single party must have special rights to it
- The standard must be defined and managed according to an open process, where every interested party is able to join the standardization process, which must be based on an open decision-making procedure (eg, consensus)
- The standard must be free to implement for all interested parties, without any royalty fee, and any patented technologies included in the standard must be licensed with royalty-free nondiscriminatory terms
- It must be possible to extend and reuse the standard in other open standards
“The rationale is that open standards lower entry barriers and encourage competing implementations of the same standard, which in turn tends to foster innovation and lower costs to the consumer,” report authors explained.
“The consumer is empowered to change products without losing data or facing significant conversion costs, thereby preventing lock-in,” the team continued. Further, together with antitrust laws, open standards help to protect consumers from monopolies.”
Open source gives organizations the opportunity to develop or change software to make it interoperable with other IT infrastructure tools. This can help provider organizations avoid many of the data interoperability issues that have made it difficult to exchange electronic health information between health IT systems.
Open source software is used all across the technology landscape, from consumer products to enterprise technology. The availability of certain code may cause healthcare organizations to be concerned about security. For example, if the code is available to anyone, what is preventing hackers from using the open source code to hack into the network?
Healthcare organizations won’t be developing their solutions on community-based open source software because there aren’t usually companies or organizations behind it to secure and support it.
Open source code should be “enterprise grade” before healthcare organizations use it in a commercial environment.
Enterprise grade open source can be used successfully in a healthcare setting because the open source code is taken by a vendor and made secure for enterprise.
Enterprise grade open source is what allows open source software to be HIPAA compliant, according to Red Hat Director of Healthcare Craig Klein.
“Five or six years ago, organizations were very concerned about security with open source, but the opposite is actually true,” Klein explained to HITInfrastructure.com in a previous interview. “There are so many people looking at the code that open source code is more secure than a proprietary code.”
“I don’t hear security concerns much anymore and organizations are really looking at open source as a way to secure things better than just having a proprietary environment because there are more people working on it.”
The more developers from different organizations who are working on the source code means that the code can be quickly modified to improve security if security gaps are discovered.
Open source contributes significantly to the advancement of healthcare IT. As new up and coming technology is being explored, developers are leaning on open source projects to make sure that a standard is being developed for the sake of interoperability and rapid adoption.
Understanding how open source can help adopt new technology more quickly and help create more cohesion and standardization across the healthcare space is critical to enhancing IT infrastructure. The quicker an open source community project can be deployed, the sooner more organizations can take advantage of technology that will help clinicians and patients.