Open Source Software: A Primer for Health Care Leaders

Forrester Research

This report examines the development and distribution of open source software, concluding that it will likely become the model for capturing, sharing, and managing patient information to support quality care.

March 2006

As information technology in the health care industry evolves from an administrative tool for billing and bookkeeping to a clinical tool for improving the quality and efficiency of health care, the scope of information sharing is expanding beyond the walls of individual institutions. Achieving this level of integration will require that software models overcome a host of technical obstacles, and that they are accessible, affordable, and widely supported.

This report examines the development and distribution of open source software, a well-established software development model — and a potential solution to the looming challenges of integration — characterized by collaboration among individuals and organizations with common interests, shared intellectual property, and a commitment to standards.

It explores open source basics, including the advantages open source presents, and how it works. The report also offers industry perspectives, explores the potential impact on EMR systems and regional health information networks, and compares open source to traditional, proprietary software.

While not heralding the end of commercial software vendors, the report concludes that conditions are ripe for open source solutions to take root in health care, and that it will likely become the standard for capturing, sharing, and managing patient information to support quality care. It also notes that health care businesses have the opportunity to take the lead and drive the shift to this new model.