What's in an EHR? As the Department of Defense prepares to select a new electronic health record system, some are advocating that it go with an open-source solution—not just to benefit of the DOD but to use the $11-billion program to benefit the healthcare industry at large.
Why it matters to the DOD
In a new report released by the Center for New American Security titled "Reforming the Military Health System," the authors argue that the selection of a closed, proprietary system would trap the DOD into vendor lock, health data isolation and a long-term contract with technology that will age rather than evolve.
Co-author Stephen L. Ondra, a former senior advisor for health information in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, tells Healthcare Dive that an open-source solution could more easily adapt to meet future modernization and interoperability needs, and could more creatively be tailored to the DOD's requirements.
Ondra says most commercial EHR systems are developed around the fee-for-service revenue cycle, a model that is not particularly relevant to the DOD and its healthcare system. He says an EHR for the DOD should be focused on the clinical care management aspect of these programs, which would require lengthy and expensive modification.
He argues that a proprietary system would be inadequate as it would leave the DOD with a single vendor's solutions. "You don't have some of the creativity and innovation that an open source system would have because you're limited to a single vendor’s view and skills," Ondra says.
In addition, he notes, proprietary systems have less incentive to provide interoperability solutions because their business model aims to lock people into using that particular system.
"I think the commercial systems are very good at what they do," Ondra said. However, "they are not ideally designed for efficiency and enhancement of care delivery, and I think the DOD can do better with an open source system both in the near-term, and more importantly in the long-term, because of the type of innovation and creativity that can more quickly come into these systems."
Why it matters to everyone
Whoever gets that $11-billion award is going to have a lot of money to develop EHR technology—and whether they are serving an open or closed solution will determine whether the innovations remain stovepiped from the rest of the industry, notes report author Peter L. Levin, a former chief technology officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"If the DOD were to choose to go with a closed, proprietary system, it has the potential of stifling innovation in the rest of the industry," Levin says. "If they go with an openly-architected, standard space and modular system, then really in a very simple way, they are spreading the innovation resources around."
"Instead of concentrating it all in one place and letting that vendor own all of the innovation, they'll be able to nourish and support the various components that comprise these complicated enterprise resource platforms in a way that will not only be beneficial to the DOD and the country in the long run, but will tremendously benefit the country and other kinds of innovations now," Levin said.
Levin adds that the same arguments for the DOD to select an open-source EHR system apply to private healthcare systems as well. He asks consumers to imagine if they could only talk to people with same phone carrier, or only go to gas stations for their particular make of car.
He argues that private hospitals and private payers have been unwittingly supporting the continued isolation and segmentation of the commercial solutions.
"Healthcare suffers tremendously in terms of cost and outcome because of these isolated systems," he says, "and that's just as true for the private sector as it is for the public sector."
Ondra adds that the DOD's choice will set an example from which both open and closed source providers could learn.
"I think that a major government contract would send the message that the current systems, as good as they are, are not fully meeting the needs of clinical care in a way that is efficient for the provider," he says.
"Going to an open source for the DOD gives the opportunity to have rapid development of things that are more helpful to care delivery, more efficient for the provider, because the customer then is the deliverer of care, and not the finance department of a care delivery system," Ondra said.