Eclipse Open Healthcare Framework Advances Healthcare Open Source


IBM recently unveiled a major step in bringing open-source software development to healthcare. A new software released under Eclipse Foundation's Open Healthcare Framework (OHF) name and targeted primarily at healthcare ISVs holds promise of greater interoperability. Health-IT World interviewed Ivan Oprencak, who participated in development and launch of the product, incubated through IBM Extreme Blue Program:

Why should physicians and hospitals care about open-source software?
The open-source community is leading the effort to deliver software that facilitates the exchange of healthcare information. EMR applications leveraging projects like the Eclipse Open Healthcare Framework (OHF) enable doctors to securely share patient data with other healthcare providers. Moreover, open-source initiatives deliver standards-compliant software available to all healthcare-IT developers at no cost, a saving that will be passed onto healthcare providers.

In healthcare, "free" is often not cheap enough. How does an open-source solution compare to commercial alternatives?
An open-source solution offers one distinct benefit to healthcare providers that no single IT vendor can hope to match. The software is developed collaboratively by representatives of all stakeholders in the healthcare industry. These include large IT vendors like IBM, large healthcare providers like the Mayo Clinic, as well as smaller firms like Inpriva, and individual physicians like Dr. Bowen who contributes to openEMR effort. No single vendor owns or controls the software, ensuring that it is always available to any healthcare application developer. In the case of Eclipse OHF, this ensures interoperability between different products working in different environments. A physician practice or a hospital can continue to use its existing IT system and benefit from open source when the system's vendor includes the software in a product upgrade.

Why should healthcare-IT vendors adopt an open-source solution?
First, healthcare IT vendors acquire open-source software at no cost, saving time and money by cutting development time. Second, projects like Eclipse OHF increase product quality because they must pass rigorous testing and the IHE certification process to demonstrate interoperability between different healthcare applications. Finally, leveraging service-oriented architecture (SOA), open-source software can be useful in healthcare applications developed under any platform.

What else should healthcare-IT professionals know about Eclipse OHF?
Eclipse OHF is a secure, open-source, standards-compliant library of software components for exchanging patient health information among doctors, hospitals, and labs. Healthcare-IT developers can download this library from the Eclipse Web site and within hours enable their applications to securely exchange patient health records with any standards-compliant document registry and repository server.

Where can our readers learn more about Eclipse OHF?
The Eclipse OHF Web site has information for healthcare-IT architects and developers. In addition, Melih Onvural, Matthew Davis, and Kelvin Jiang, who are members of IBM's Extreme Blue program, developed OHF Bridge, Web services interface to Eclipse OHF, as well as an online demo application that allows users to search and retrieve patient health information from a live document registry and repository server. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of the entire Eclipse OHF community, especially Eishay Smith.

Dmitriy Kruglyak is publisher of The Medical Blog Network and chair of Healthcare Blogging Summit 2006. E-mail: dkruglyak@healthvoices.com.
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