Better healthcare via open source, Harvard med school CIO argues

The open-source movement may offer some clues as to how to solve the apparently intractable mess that is the U.S. healthcare records system.

In a clear indicator that open source is having an impact well beyond software, Harvard Medical School's CIO, Dr. John Halamka, recently went on the record at the Red Hat Summit arguing that open source points the way to better healthcare. In this, however, he wasn't talking about software per se, but rather about the community approach to tackling what appears to be a gargantuan problem:

Online medical records.

This seems like an easy task, right? Scan them in and save the documents online. Google Health is doing it, right? How hard can it be?

Very hard, it turns out. But open source provides some clues as to how to resolve the issue, as Dr. Halamka suggests:

Healthcare interoperability requires open standards, developed in a transparent way, by a community. It requires reusable components and tools which accelerate technical connectivity and data sharing. The Open Source movement embraces all these principles....[S]o I welcome their contributions to the work connecting payers, providers and patients.

How do you manage a disparate group of self-interested actors? Open source. How do you take care of breaking up the overarching task into bite-sized pieces? Open source. How do you get US healthcare records online? Open source, according to one of the experts in the business.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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