Monday, May 4, 2009

Equalizing the Playing Field

(“Open” is not a Four Letter Word)

If open-sourced crowdsourcing hasn’t shown you its formula is successful, you’re not paying attention. Look at Apache HTTP Server, look at Linux, look at Mozilla Firefox, Java, MySQL, Thunderbird, OpenOffice; open source and crowdsourcing enhance innovation; support of open source allows profit. Healthcare needs such public/private cooperation to stimulate the innovation necessary for its salvation.

Of the open source EHRs currently available, such as OpenEMR, OpenMRS, VistaA & Vista-Office EHR, FreeMed, tkFP, and Care2x, thus far, they are unusable for most of the masses. Still typically Windows 95-ish, very boxy with lots of columns and rows, their support sites are often heavily laden with tech-head jargon and formatted such that perusing them is laborious. Documentation is usually cumbersome or scanty, often difficult for the lay person to assimilate.

Wouldn’t it be great if a polished, open source EHR could incorporate a “best practices” approach for included elements/design? Everyone’s got their favorites, but from down here in my trench, standouts include:

  • Eclipsys’ Peak Practice - best visual candy, great customizability and workflow
  • Jay Parkinson and his creative Hello Health - Web 2.0 style, “intuitivity”
  • Doctations - online implementation, share-the-sandbox inclusivity
  • TeleAtrics - little known with one of the best physician or patient/parent visit summary note formats – not too big, not too small, juuuuust right
  • Medicomp’s new CliniTalk - simpler, yet far more powerful coded data collection via voice, type, or pen click
  • athenahealth’s athenaCollector - exudes billing and practice management power
  • Medicity’s Care Collaboration Platform - share, share, share

Why hasn’t some clever bizhead figured out that the potential for a really slick open source EHR/PM, marketed and supported correctly, is astronomical? Vendors say up front fees are not the moneymakers, that ongoing support services are what generate profit. Still, the majority of my non-tech physician colleagues cringe far more at initial EHR cost figures than at the support fees. Lower the threshold for entry; make a visually pleasing tool designed for normal peeps, not gadget geeks; provide education and support par excellence – these would seem a recipe for sweeping adoption and profit.

Small community docs and hospitals could certainly use a truly functional, low entry threshold product to help them cross the digital divide for their two-thirds of U.S. healthcare provision. They need a playing field equalizer, because current vendor offerings are built mainly for the big boys. It’d might be nice if some bIg BeheMoth-sort would see the value in thousands of small community sales globally, but if not (and not meaning to be insensitive) then come on, all you out-of-work developers and designers out there…wake up! During the current economic slump: 1) band together; 2) steal a few from column A, a few from column B, etc.; 3) put together an EHR that really will help the befuddled medical masses with a healthcare tool we could all actually use; and 4) create yourselves some jobs while helping save the entire U.S. healthcare system – hell, the whole global economy – to boot!

First posted on HIStalkPractice, May 3, 2009.

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