In April 2 IssueBy Jeff Smith, columnist
Everywhere you look, people are complaining about the price of healthcare.
It's a dividing issue in politics, and it's a serious issue in many homes all over the nation. Healthcare is expensive. And if you take the time to talk to a doctor, it quickly becomes obvious why.
The uninformed often like to blame doctors as being too greedy, but the truth is that it goes beyond the doctors. The greed is nearly universal.
From medical colleges that cost a fortune to attend, to hyper-expensive equipment, to high-priced malpractice insurance, today's doctors are forced to charge an arm and a leg. And with new regulations about to go into effect, it's only going to get worse.
Laws have been passed that stipulate that all patient records need to be digital by 2014. Not only that, but prescriptions as well.
This has resulted in a lot of software companies beginning to develop EMR software. EMR is short for Electronic Medical Records, and it is big business, or at least, it is about to be. The cost of setting up an EMR system can cost up to $40,000 or more for one location, with the majority of that going to software licenses. And you can probably guess who is gonna foot the bill for that, right? We are.
Either in the form of higher medical bills, higher insurance premiums, or higher taxes. Yes, I said taxes.
Apparently, there is a government assistance program to help clinics and hospitals fund the changeover, but that money really can only come from two places: either we pay for it in taxes, or the treasury prints more money to cover it and weaken our currency even further than it is, making the money we already have worth even less. So one way or another, it is going to cost us.
But what if there was another way? What if the cost of setting up an EMR system was somehow cheaper? That would be good, right? Well, the open source community has been hard at work on this, and there are several open source EMR systems available that are free.
That's right, free. Buying the equipment still costs the same, of course, but the overall cost of upgrading a medical facility with EMR is greatly reduced when you take out the proprietary licensing costs. Wikipedia lists 18 different open source EMR projects. And the open source community has not only picked up the task of creating EMR software... There are also free open source clinic management programs, medical imaging programs, research platforms, and even open source medical software for handheld devices.
One of these projects, OpenEMR (www.oemr.org) is something I use nearly every day. I actually installed the software on a server at work. And because it is open source, I was able to customize the software into something a little more useful to yours truly.
Now, rather than documenting the trials and tribulations of sick humans, it is used for documenting the trials and tribulations of sick computers.
But that is just a testament to the versatility of open-source software.
OpenEMR is pretty awesome. It runs in a web browser from a central server, so I can access it anywhere at work or with a little bit of tinkering, from anywhere across the web. I can even use it on my phone's web browser. The project is 60% complete and is in active development, and is currently collecting donations to try to pay the $35,000 CCHIT Certification costs. It is already in use in clinics in other countries, so field testing is happening as we speak.
The main problem here is that these projects are often run by non-profit groups, using volunteer programmers.
They don't exactly have much money to be spending on advertisements in medical journals and trade magazines.
The only way the word is going to get out is if someone takes the time to explain to the medical community that they have more fiscally responsible options.
I always make a point of this whenever I'm talking to a doctor or nurse, but considering that I am so stubborn that if I cut my leg off I'd still try to treat it at home, I don't always get a chance to. Perhaps next time you're at the doc, you can mention it to them.
Now, if we can just somehow get the government offices themselves to stop using MS Windows and use free alternatives, we may be able to afford to keep anarchy at bay indefinitely.