Open source no panacea for e-health

Leading CIO says open source should not be seen as a panacea for addressing the interoperability challenges in healthcare

Open source software could provide a model for better e-health collaboration, but should not be seen as a panacea for addressing the interoperability challenges in healthcare, according to a leading healthcare industry CIO.

Malcolm Thatcher, CIO of Queensland-based Mater Hospital, said there are two issues to consider around the need for interoperability amongst Australian healthcare providers.

One issue is the National E-Health Transition Authority’s (NEHTA) work towards interoperability standards, and the other issue is around interoperability capacity within the Australian healthcare system.

While NEHTA has developed an e-health interoperability framework, Thatcher says it’s not that easy.

“We’ve got a long way to go there because it’s not [as simple as] a regulatory body like NEHTA coming out and saying ‘these are the standards,’” he said.

See related feature: Prescription for e-health

Although admitting that if NEHTA adopted an open source model healthcare providers could benefit from its agility, Thatcher said the problem in Australia is that there is a greater variability between the types of healthcare providers and their IT systems.

“One of the biggest challenges for Australia’s ability to share health records is the fact that we don’t have electronic health records (EHR) to share,” he said.

“As a nation I think we have to fully address our capacity to manage and share health information.

“If NEHTA was to use an open source model to go down the path of delivering certain building blocks to enable the sharing of health information, then that would I think give some agility to some health care providers to say ‘ok, well we can leverage that open source approach."

Last month, NEHTA released its Strategic Plan to 2012, outlining how the agency intends to drive e-health development and the migration to an EHR service.

Thatcher's comments come on the back of those made by University of Sydney e-health academic Professor Jon Patrick, who previously told Computerworld the Federal Government and healthcare industry bodies should abandon proprietary software and embrace open source if Australia is to have a successful national e-health platform.

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