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Open Source Health IT Growing

August 29, 2011
by David Raths
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Industry expands 31% over the previous year in areas like 3-D medical imaging, data management, clinical trials

With all the progress being made by commercial electronic health record software vendors and their customers, it’s important to remember there’s another group that has made great strides: the open source community working on health IT projects.

One open source vendor, Black Duck Software, tracks the growth of open source projects in healthcare. It found 294 new healthcare-related projects in 2010, a 31 percent increase over the previous year. Areas of growth include 3-D medical imaging, data management and clinical trials.

Seven open source EHRs have been certified for meaningful use in either ambulatory or inpatient settings. For instance, WorldVistA and 153-bed Oroville Hospital in California are collaborating on an open source project, WorldVistA EHR 2.0.

“I am very proud that our private hospital was able to implement and certify its EHR system using our own IT team,” said Denise LeFevre, Oroville Hospital’s CIO in a prepared statement. “This proves that with a little help and support, any hospital will be able to achieve the same outcomes we have.”

Recent progress extends beyond the EHR level. For instance, in 2007 the Redwood MedNet health information exchange in California used Mirth and other open source software packages to create a system for a fraction of the cost of other HIEs, it claims. Also, the Regenstrief Institute in Indiana is in the midst of deploying a new platform built on open source technologies, including G3, a computerized physician order entry (CPOE) system designed to support advanced research in clinical decision support, usability, physician workflow and patient safety.

There’s even a burgeoning web portal called Open Health News ( that provides news and blogs related to open source developments in the healthcare field.

Even if open source isn’t making great inroads in terms of market share, the model can make a huge difference for cash-strapped healthcare organizations. For instance, Mike Doyle, president and CEO of Medsphere Systems Corp., which produces the OpenVista EHR, a commercialized version of the VA software, described the benefits of an implementation in West Virginia. I interviewed Doyle for an article in Behavioral Healthcare magazine a few years ago. He told me that the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources spent roughly $9 million over five years to implement OpenVista in nine public hospitals, including two psychiatric hospitals. By comparison, the West Virginia University Hospitals spent $90 million to implement a proprietary EHR in five sites. “This is a unique opportunity for behavioral health centers to have as good an EHR as large acute-care hospitals at a very low cost, Doyle said, “due to our business model.”