Why Would Government Launch an Open Source EHR Community?

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Last summer, the US Department of Veterans Affairs launched OSEHRA, the central governing body of a new open source software community focused on electronic health records. The community is growing rapidly, with more than 750 members from industry, government, and academia so far. VA has contributed its VistA EHR software, and many community members are engaged in everything from refactoring VistA code to working out the architecture of future EHRs.

The care and feeding of OSEHRA’s new open source community will be the subject of a case study at the upcoming Open Source Think Tank.

But why would a government agency start down this untrodden path to begin with?

VistA, is central to the quality of care that VA delivers to Veterans at 152 hospitals and more than 900 outpatient clinics. It was designed by clinicians for clinicians and embodies the patient-centric clinical workflow that supports VA’s models of care.

However, VistA’s rate of innovation has slowed substantially, even at a time when new models of care are continuously developed and deployed to include new technology – from mobile devices and wireless communications – and new services – from specialized care for traumatic brain injury to outreach to rural Veterans.

Finding a way to accelerate EHR innovation is crucial to our ability to deploy health care innovations.

While VA has many talented developers, a strictly internal focus on EHR innovation is not enough. Tapping the larger community of EHR users, developers, and service providers is key to unlocking the potential to rapidly advance the technology.

In searching for models where a diverse group of participants can collaborate, share innovations, build businesses, and advance the state of technology to the benefit of all participants, the world of open source software development provides many successful examples.

It is with the goal of accelerating EHR innovation by bringing together a robust community of people and institutions that VA launched OSEHRA. This, we believe, is a worthy effort that benefits not just Veterans but the national and international conversation on health care.

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