Over the past decade, health IT has evolved from an administrative mechanism to a clinical tool for improving the quality and efficiency of healthcare. Such cutting-edge technologies as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud, big data, and artificial intelligence have made their way into the healthcare industry, and the rapidly growing scope of information shared has generated the need for accessible, affordable, and widely supported software development tools and technologies.
Open source software, characterized by collaboration among developers and organizations with common interests, shared intellectual property, and a commitment to standards, is a potential solution to the challenges facing market players. Some experts emphasize that open source methodologies applied to healthcare could mean shorter routes to cures and faster diagnostics, resulting in more effective treatments; however, others highlight major security weaknesses across all open source software.
Indeed, there are both pros and cons of open source software in healthcare, and as this model is clearly going to become deeply rooted in the industry, they are all worth considering. Let us share some insights from Auriga’s experts.
What distinguishes open source from proprietary software is continuous enhancement. The entire open source community can perform updates, investigate and fix bugs, and advance the code, thus heightening its quality. Open source software is mostly well designed, stable, and reliable, which is, for obvious reasons, especially critical in the healthcare industry.
Most open source solutions are based on the same technologies and paradigms, such as the IoT and big data, and even on the same core, which greatly facilitates their integration and joint operation. Moreover, many applications are already integrated into ecosystems.
With the growing diversity of medical equipment, wearables, and healthcare apps generating an overwhelming amount of data, medical device interoperability is a challenge healthcare organizations currently face. As a rule, open source solutions have an open architecture and allow the integration of various products into a single system.
Healthcare is an industry that must comply with a number of standards. Today, there are a large number of open source libraries for various industry standards, such as Health Level 7. Auriga has not stayed aside – in December 2016, our engineers released an open source HL7 library to provide interoperability for medical devices.
Many vendors offer commercial versions of open source solutions with enterprise support, and multiple versions of the same product are offered, each adapted to users’ specific needs. Importantly, the implementation and maintenance of such systems do not require much additional knowledge. Specialists who have mastered an open source version can easily use commercial versions in their projects.
Open source software may seem to be the ideal solution, but the drawbacks should also be considered.
Open source software increases the risk of hacking and data breaches if additional security measures are not taken. Analysts have found that 96% of applications across all industry sectors contain open source software and a large proportion is vulnerable to open source security issues. Given the fact that, in 2016, information security was considered the top health IT concern, open source vulnerability is a serious issue.
Lack of Support
Open source vendors do not have the same kind of support resources that proprietary vendors do, and even though there is a robust and active open source community, few open source software vendors can offer 24/7 support for their solutions.
Although many open source products, including open source EHR software, have been successfully certified, whether the open source community can provide the same level of technology, reliability, and capabilities as proprietary vendors, especially when it comes to healthcare, remains uncertain.
Of course, there are many more benefits and drawbacks of open source software in healthcare, and each of them deserves a separate article. This list is not complete, and it will likely change with future technological developments. We encourage our subscribers and followers to share their opinions and comments on our blog post.