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Open source meets economic stimulus

We’ve all heard about the nightmare mishaps in hospital surgeries — doctors look at the wrong charts and you come out of what was supposed to be routine surgery with missing limbs. What would happen if you presented them with a complex electronic system of health records?

A recent blog by Red Hat News promoted the use of an open source health IT system, and it congratulated the government for recognizing the importance of electronic health records in the economic stimulus package. Call me a pessimist, but I think the roadblocks for implementing such a system are huge.  There’s the cost of switching all previous written records over to electronic, start-up and software maintenance costs, privacy issues and the aforementioned catastrophes that human error could cause. 

The economic stimulus package outlines an open source study that should be completed by Oct 1, 2010. The study will research the cost of an open source health IT system and compare it to existing proprietary commercial products.

According to a July 2008 study from the New England Journal of Medicine, only 4% of U.S. physicians have a fully functional EHR, and only 13% have a basic EHR. 2/3 of physicians in the study said that price was the main barrier for adopting the electronic method.

I can definitely recognize the importance of modernizing our hospitals, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the key arguments for an open source health IT system are valid.  An interoperable EHR system could reduce medical errors, save medical imaging costs and improve billing and data efficiency.

The other good news is that an open source system means new jobs for software engineers, security experts and solutions providers. The bottom line is that everyone using the system will have to be on top of their game to avoid failures that could have really horrifying consequences.

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