Taking an open (source) approach to HIT challenges
By Frank Curran, February 6, 2012There are three key areas of open-source innovation that can significantly benefit IT departments with strapped budgets and impending compliance mandates.
The healthcare industry is under an unprecedented amount of regulatory and budgetary pressure this year. When faced with increasing challenges, the natural reaction is to cut budgets, tighten spending and cost-effectively maintain compliance in order to preserve the bottom line while waiting for greener pastures.
However, it is during tough times that IT professionals should question natural reaction and approach this year's challenges with an open mind and evaluate a different set of technologies: open source.
The traditional appeal of open source is cost efficiency; it does help organizations do more with less. Organizations such as Hartford Hospital can prove open-source Linux-based technology can reduce start-up costs and increase the ability to cost-effectively scale resources through implementation and management.
Linux just celebrated its 20th birthday. The fact that Linux is such a mainstream player may come as a surprise to many. Today, Linux powers the fastest supercomputers, manages complex IT in Fortune 100 companies and even assists soldiers in battle.
Open-source-driven innovation has arrived in healthcare too. Looking to 2012, there are three key areas of open-source innovation that can significantly benefit IT departments with strapped budgets and impending compliance mandates. Noting these innovations could not only help budgets and bandwidth, but also enable IT to be a key business driver throughout the organization.
One of the most complicated aspects of an IT project is its deployment. In many cases, working with an array of proprietary vendors can be time consuming, rigid and costly. It's also risky, as multiple manual implementations create security and compliance risk upon each replication.
However, open software implementations allow for one application stack to be transferable across hospitals, offices and branches. Through a technology known as a software appliance, departments create one application and replicate its key elements across multiple systems and locations, customizing each application as needed. This saves critical time and effort that the department can allocate to more important management functions. It also allows the organization to be compliant, as all applications have the same properties and are easily reported and audited.
The cloud comprises its own realm of possibilities and choices. Two particular areas where open platforms assist with speed and flexibility of cloud deployments are:
1. Software appliance building and provisioning tools; and
2. Uniquely scalable storage capabilities.
By using open-source application image customization and provisioning tools to build software appliances, developers can easily pre-build applications that can be deployed into any public cloud environment with just a few clicks. Additionally, if an organization is concerned about the security of data in the public cloud, IT can transfer the applications on a private cloud in a flexible manner, across platforms regardless of their physical or virtual location.
Open source can also help IT organizations leverage the increasingly popular area of cloud storage. With many companies examining the option to port their EHRs or radiology images to a cloud environment, an open-source-structured deployment can easily scale up and down when needed. While the cloud is a naturally scalable platform, the open-source route has more manageable start-up costs, which can be especially helpful to smaller and mid-size HIT organizations.
The emergence of the home-care market requires a new realm of devices, including patient-care monitors, kiosks and infusion pumps. Each device is usually built with its own applications, operating systems and management components. The same is true within the embedded systems market that provides medical imaging and medical systems, such as CAT scanners, nuclear medicine and telemedicine. Both markets are looking for faster, easier and automated processes to create and deploy their products to the market.
Open-source Linux is a particularly attractive platform in embedded systems largely due to its flexibility and open code. Linux is also highly adaptable to run with other IT systems because open-source technologies are known for interoperability with surrounding IT infrastructure. This translates to easier deployment, and it also frees departments from standardizing on any one particular infrastructure vendor.
For example, a Fortune 100 healthcare imaging equipment provider needed to embed a particular operating system into a large amount of radiology devices. Because the scalability of Linux allowed for automation across a large amount of devices, the company was able to translate a sophisticated application across hundreds of devices at a much lower cost.
When faced with such daunting challenges, it's important for IT to look at technology with an open mind. Open source has been around for a long time — and it's come a long way. The low cost, speed and flexibility might be of welcome assistance to any department, especially one looking to deploy software, investigate the cloud's potential or integrate within embedded systems. Here's to meeting your challenges in 2012 with an open mind. It's a great first step toward success.
About the author
Frank Curran is a global business development manager for SUSE, which specializes in evaluating, creating and managing open solutions for the healthcare market. If you'll be at HIMSS, check out the SUSE booth (#13021). For more information, see www.suse.com.
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