Feds eye open source model for medical data systems

On a mission to modernize, the US government is eyeing an Internet-based healthcare system for easy sharing of health related data between doctors, medical institutions and patients.

As part of this initiative, the government hopes to move all medical records online where doctors can quickly and securely access them.

Although an Internet-based health data system model may seem like a good idea to some, there are certain challenges that must be overcome before widespread adoption is implemented.

For example, critics argue that without nationwide participation and total connectivity, the system will be nothing more than an expensive electronic data management system.

As such, the federal government is pumping billions of dollars into a five year incentive program to promote the adoption of an electronic patient records system.

Interestingly, the government chose an open source approach by asking several dozen health information technology companies to organize an initiative called the Direct Project.

This project “was created to specify a simple, secure, scalable, standards-based way for participants to send authenticated, encrypted health information directly to known, trusted recipients over the Internet.”

Among the heavy hitters involved are Epic, General Electric, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NextGen, Siemens, Surescripts, Allscripts and Cerner.

When asked why the government went with an open-source approach, Dr. Douglas Fridsma, head of standards at the federal health information technology office explained that otherwise, “we [wouldn’t] see the rapid innovation we want to see using the traditional way.”

Brian Behlendorf, chief technology officer for the World Economic Forum and creator of the Apache Web server is also working as an adviser on the open-source project.

The project is framed by Behlendorf’s “do-ocracy” concept, where researchers simply “do” and come out with working technology and protocols.

As expected, the Direct Project group is quite cognizant of security and has therefore proposed an Internet-based system protected by layers of encryption specifically tailored for the health care sector.

They also emphasized that the new system would deliberately lack personal “identifiable” information in e-mail headers to protect a patient’s identity.

“It builds on proven [secure] technology that people are accustomed to using,” explained Arien Malec, coordinator for the Direct Project.

(Via NY Times