Seven Considerations for the Impact of Open Source on Healthcare – 10/18/10

OCT 18

There has been much written by TripleTree and others on the influence of cloud technologies on healthcare, but what about open source as a transformative technology?

No doubt open source technologies will make their way into and have an impact on healthcare in some way, but we’re of the mindset that it will take a long time to get here, and the size of the impact could be minimal. Here are seven considerations for healthcare CIOs and their technology partners:

  1. Commercial open source vendors are small and unsophisticated in the ways of healthcare IT. So with little investment and large barriers to entry (slow buying cycles, antiquated architectures, compliance, etc.), healthcare will be a hard sell. There will probably be some experiments, trial runs, and partnerships with early stage ISV’s looking to triangulate around the trend of SaaS/Cloud/Open Source; but in reality it will take a few years to get efforts ramped up into large commercially viable solutions.
  2. Virtualization will have a bigger impact on HCIT operational efficiency than simply open source. Sure, where virtualization and open source intersect (specifically at the Xen hypervisor), there may be some impact, but I think open source gets overshadowed by virtualization investments.
  3. The IT “master brands” vendors with expressed interest in healthcare (MSFT, IBM, HP, etc) are pushing their proprietary stacks.  Deeper pockets will prevail and the only new entrant that can make an impact is probably Google (and their HC commitment is questionable). Will they push ChromeOS into HC and make a meaningful impact?  Not likely as ChromeOS is too new and Google Health is too consumer (rather than system) focused. Plus with Oracle taking out Sun, another open source proponent will move to a proprietary stack (Fusion)
  4. Workflow and process integration in HC systems are mostly manual. Before open source has a meaningful impact on data integration a process automation evolution within healthcare is needed…and process automation in healthcare is nascent.
  5. Open source has had a good seven year run of enterprise acceptance. Given that healthcare is lagging about 10 years behind in IT innovation, we likely have two plus years before HC starts thinking about open source more widely. In smaller pockets, we could see early open source efforts where a few innovative vendors expose limited/departmental use cases or in public sector instances where states try to be innovative with alternative procurement (e.g.  HIE may see open source experimentation).
  6. The mainstreaming of SaaS and other alternate delivery/licensing/outsourcing models from groups like Athena provide a better value proposition.  This is relevant to the likely adopters – small and mid-size doctor’s offices – who want to avoid on-premise open source systems and related complexities of specialized IT knowledge and a willingness to go-it-alone with limited vendor support.  SaaS wasn’t mainstream when enterprises began to embrace open source; but now that SaaS (and cloud) is prevalent the same drivers of open source adoption don’t exist.
  7. Open source will probably have more of an impact in research/government/university settings where a healthcare focus and established open source culture (around longer running projects) can coexist.  Within healthcare, open source will emerge more readily with health plans where large data centers and processing make it an interesting operating system.

The list of technology issues confronting healthcare is considerable, and it’s unclear that open source would have impact given other innovative tools.  We’re watching the likes of Citrix and RedHat as vendors that could step forward and we’ll continue to update this blog with our latest thinking.

Thanks and have a great week!

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Scott Donahue