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Why Open Source Software Fits Health IT Infrastructure

Open source software helps organizations improve their health IT infrastructure technology faster at a lower cost.

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Health IT infrastructure is advancing quickly and organizations must keep up with the most up-to-date technology innovations while still trying to save money.

Open source software is gaining popularity in the healthcare space because it naturally lends itself to innovation, Red Hat Director of Healthcare Craig Klein told HITInfrastructure.com.

“Open source is a methodology on how to develop software,” Klein explained. “The premise behind open source is you have a group of people collaborating on a particular piece of code. For example, if you have someone building an operating system, there may be one hundred thousand people contributing that particular piece of code from thousands of organizations.”

The open source community takes the code that’s being worked on and releases it into open source projects.

Klein emphasized that there are several different kinds of open source, which has caused healthcare organizations to be skeptical when first considering the technology for their IT infrastructure.

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There’s open source that is in the open source community that are projects. Then there’s open source that is enterprise-grade.

Healthcare companies should not develop on community-based open source because there aren’t usually companies behind it to secure and support it. Making the open source code enterprise grade is what allows healthcare organizations to use it in a commercial environment.

Enterprise grade open source can be used successfully in healthcare 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.

“Five or six years ago, organizations were very concerned about security with open source, but the opposite is actually true,” Klein stated. “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.”

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Open source is the key to fast health IT innovation that will help healthcare defeat some of its biggest technological challenges, such as interoperability and security.

“Open Source is used a lot of different ways in healthcare,” said Klein. “The best way to understand why it’s been doing so well in the healthcare world is to think about how doctors work. “

“Doctors collaborate and get together with other doctors of similar specialties and different specialties,” he continued. “Their theory is if you have more people working on the problem you’re going to find a better solution. There’s specialist working with general practitioners and multiple specialist working on a single case.”

“The same is true with open source,” Klein added. “There’s multiple people working on a similar problem. It’s a natural fit into healthcare clinicians understand the open source development model.”

Open source also helps organizations save money in the face of value-based care by allowing them to continue using legacy pieces of their health IT infrastructures while also incorporating new technology advancements.

READ MORE: Benefits of Open-Source Software to Healthcare Community

“Open source allows you to work with other vendors so when the software is developed, it’s developed to work with everything,” Klein explained. “When organizations deploy open source, it makes it much easier to share data and information and to integrate. Interoperability is all about open source, which is absolutely critical in healthcare.”

Open source also plays a significant role in healthcare analytics, mobility, cloud, and virtualization.

“If you look at all the big data players in healthcare, they’re all open source based companies,” said Klein. “Most of the technology being developed, whether it be big data, analytics, mobile, or software-defined networks, all this development is happening in the open source world, which perfectly fits with all the interoperability needs within healthcare.”

“Most of the major cloud environments, around 80 percent, are developed and run on open source environments,” he continued. “There’s a tremendous need in healthcare for flexibility and the ability to adapt to all changes and take advantage of the cloud. The cloud world is driven by open source as is the need to be flexible enough to work with older and newer technologies and open source allows you to do that.”

Open source also has a large part to play in the development of future technologies that will continue to help healthcare organizations use technological advancements to benefit both clinicians and patients.

“A lot of the innovations taking place in IT are happening in the open source world,” Klein explained. “It just makes sense. My theory is that one company just isn’t large enough to come up with all the things that need to happen. That’s why open source is becoming such a big factor in the marketplace. We’ll continue to see open source becomes more and more prevalent. People are asking for it because of the speed of innovation and the flexibility.”

“Healthcare organizations cannot afford to get rid of all their old technology so they’re in a sort of hybrid mode,” he continued. “Open source allows them to take advantage of using all the technology together which is why it’s growing more popular in healthcare.”

Open source has a lot to offer healthcare but it cannot be successful without careful consideration of an entity’s future.

“Putting an open source piece here and there is nice, but it’s not going to take you where you want to go,” Klein advised. “Organizations need to look at where their future state wants to be what open source can do for them. This determines the best places to use the technology in conjunction with what’s already there.”

“It’s basically looking at an overall plan and determining where the openness and flexibility is needed, and apply it there as an overall strategy. Entities can’t just throw everything out and start over again.”

Healthcare organizations stand to gain a lot from open source technology in terms of innovation and technological advancements. This option also caters to value-based care and getting the most out of an IT infrastructure budget.

“Open source allows organizations to work with other vendors so when open source software is developed, it’s developed to work with everything,” Klein concluded. “When entities deploy open source, it makes it much easier to share data and information and to integrate health IT systems.”