Open source plays role in UK health IT project

NHS will contribute to software development and work alongside its counterparts from the US, Canada and Australia

Open source has made a dramatic reappearance on the radar of the NHS' £12.4 billion IT strategy.

NHS Connecting for Health has co-founded an open source healthcare software program, called Open Health Tools, headed up by Skip McGaughey, a co-founder of the Eclipse Foundation, a development consortium.

Other members include Australia's National e-Health Transition Authority, the US Veteran's Health Administration service, and Canada Health Infoway. Health standards agencies, universities, and suppliers including BT, IBM, Oracle and Red Hat are also involved.

The aim of the program is to set internationally interoperable platforms under an agreed framework, as the NHS moves to electronic patient records under its £12.4 billion Connecting for Health program.

The NHS is a major Microsoft customer, and last year signed a large deal to upgrade to Windows Vista. But, it always maintained it would continually evaluate open source.

Ken Lunn, director of NHS Data Standards and Products, said: "Interoperability is a core aspect of the National Programme for IT and one of the enablers for safe and secure access to patient information whenever and wherever it is needed."

In the new venture, the NHS will contribute to software development, and work alongside its counterparts from the US, Canada and Australia as well as other businesses. Governance, legal and intellectual property policies, development processes, and marketing and business practices are based on the Eclipse Foundation model.

The OHT said its mission was to provide "software tools and components that will accelerate the implementation of electronic health information interoperability platforms, which improve patient quality of care, safety and access to electronic health records."

"The results will be available under an open source agreement so anyone may utilize them to provision interoperable healthcare platforms that will link clinics, hospitals, pharmacies and other points of care to make the healthcare system more efficient," it continued.

Annual savings of US$77.8 billion could be made in the US alone as a result of interoperability, the OHT said.

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