Advancing Healthcare With an Open Health IT Market
Healthcare information technology (health IT) should be a team sport. That can only happen with “open” systems, which can easily exchange information with different software programs. With open systems, we can better collaborate with each other to create more innovative healthcare technologies.
An open approach to health IT reduces the time from invention to delivery by making it faster for those innovations to plug in to solutions healthcare organizations already own. Open makes it easy to take advantage of breakthrough technologies and put great ideas into practice.
But some EHR vendors are reluctant to engage with other software developers. They prefer to do everything themselves, in the name of quality.
Imagine if Ford or Toyota or Audi said, “We care about the cost and quality of our cars, so we’re going to build everything ourselves. We’re going to build our own radios, tires, glass and steel.” Henry Ford started down this road in the 1920s, with disastrous consequences.
Fordlandia: A Cautionary Tale
Often hailed as an innovator, Henry Ford introduced the first moving assembly line that enabled mass production of the automobile. Lesser known is his ill-fated Brazilian community, Fordlandia, which failed miserably because Ford thought one company could do it all.
In 1928 Ford established Fordlandia in the Amazon rainforest to provide a source of rubber for Ford tires. He didn’t want to rely on outside suppliers, but he failed to recognize his company’s incompetence when it came to agriculture in the jungles of South America. Managers were ill-equipped, workers revolted, and crops failed. Fordlandia was sold (at a significant loss) in 1945 without producing any rubber for Ford’s tires.
Guess what was happening while Ford was toiling in the jungle? World War II disrupted shipping and pushed other innovators to create synthetic rubber, reducing the value of natural rubber. Had Ford been more willing to “play well with others,” he could have avoided his multimillion-dollar loss and saved years of wasted efforts.
The lesson for health IT: We shouldn’t assume that one company can invent everything itself. The industry should encourage companies to work together for the greater good of innovation. That’s because the cost of a “we make everything ourselves” product is through the roof. And overall quality and innovation suffers, too.
Health IT must apply the same sense as other giants of industry. EHR vendors need to build the basic car. And they’re going to need to find the best tires and radios to systematically aggregate core EHRs with partners’ innovative solutions.
Creating a Vibrant, Open Market
I believe one of the keys to making health IT successful is a vibrant, open market community. Do we need two people selling peaches in the farmer’s market? Maybe some peaches are yellow, some are white. Maybe the taste is different, or the quality. Maybe the competition drives the price down for the consumer.
I rail against the notion that EHR companies should set themselves up as the “deciders.” We need to let the market decide which application works best. The people spending money are the ones who should decide which ones win.
Instead of deciding, EHR companies should enable. They should make it possible for all the applications to compete and let the market figure it out. Because it’s going to take the whole healthcare community working closely with inventors to make this stuff work.
iTunes was the most brilliant of Steve Jobs’ innovations, because he made it really easy to find and buy partner applications that worked on his iPhone or iPad. He enabled the market to decide what would work best.
Of course being open does not mean vendors get a free pass when it comes to security and privacy concerns. If the first step is enabling technology, a very close second is ensuring it’s secure. Having an open community is only valuable when it is safe.
We need to ensure products are HIPAA-compliant and protect patient data. If you ask an IT person in healthcare, “How many times was your website attacked today?” the only wrong answer is, “I don’t know.” Attacks number in the thousands, and it’s critical to repel all of them. It only takes one person penetrating the system to cause serious damage.
The Value of Being Open in Health IT
Openness encourages innovation, bringing together the best minds, the most creative people, the individuals with the deepest understanding—everyone with something to add to the healthcare body of knowledge and healthcare information technology.
Because when openness enables better patient care and financial advantages, we all win—from patients to caregivers to third-party developers. We’re talking about real competitive advantages that bring about real change in healthcare. Some of those advantages are costly, but all of them help improve the quality of care for our loved ones.
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Stanley Crane is chief innovation officer for Allscripts, a leader in healthcare information technology solutions that advance clinical, financial and operational results. In his more than 30 years of healthcare and consumer-related software experience, he has led the development of award-winning software programs including electronic health records, electronic prescribing, Web-based medication sales, online physician education, resource scheduling, financial systems, materials management, medical translation software and voice recognition dictation systems. To learn more, visit www.allscripts.com and It Takes A Community: The Allscripts Blog.