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Open Source Goes Live

OpenVista, a private adaptation of the VA’s open-source system, revised to run commercial hospital systems.

The Veterans Health Administration hospitals were among the first in the United States to embrace IT-assisted health care in a major way. So it was a much anticipated moment when last week the OpenVista system, a private adaptation of the VA's system, was released as open source code on the SourceForge site. Its commercial backer, Medsphere, made the move after revising the code to run on Linux and adding features a commercial hospital needs, such as providing cost-of-care information to insurers.

Road To An Open Source Application
2002 Medsphere founded to commercialize VA Vista apps
2004 First use of VA apps outside government
2006 First commercial customer of OpenVista, the adapted version of VA applications
2007 OpenVista code is made open source
Midland Memorial Hospital contracted with Medsphere two years ago for OpenVista, before the code was open source, and now about 19 hospitals and clinics are deploying it. Midland had used standalone applications to run its radiology lab, pharmacy, and intensive care ward. None treated patient data the same way or shared it well, requiring a cumbersome messaging engine, says IS director David Whiles. "You can't get rich functionality with separate systems," he says. "OpenVista supplies a single, integrated system." OpenVista supplies eight applications that talk to one another, so a surgeon's prescription for an operating room patient goes to the pharmacy electronically, and the medicine arrives in the patient's room often before the patient does. The OpenVista pharmacy application also issues a bar code for the prescription that matches one on the patient's wristband, to prevent medicine from going to the wrong patient.

Cost was a big factor. McKesson and Deloitte Touche estimated a full electronic medical record system would cost $18 million to $20 million. "Our entire OpenVista project is $7.1 million," he says, with most of that for OpenVista installation and support from Medsphere. "If we had to spend $20 million to upgrade our systems, we wouldn't be able to do it."

Return to the story:
The Next Round Of Microsoft Vs. Linux: Health Care

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