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21 February 2011, 16:37

Open source and standards encouraged in the NHS

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The founder of The Open Health Informatics research programme at the City University London, Professor John Chelsom, has published a Challenge PaperPDF encouraging the use of open standards and open source software in the NHS, in the context of "Open Health Informatics". Arguing that just the use of open standards and software is not sufficient, the concept adds two more criteria: "the use of open interfaces so that every component of a solution can be plugged in and out at will" and "the use of open development processes ... that involves users and other stakeholders at every step of the way."

Chelsom claims that the National Health Service Programme for IT (NPfIT), has wasted a decade in the development of its clinical information systems, and says that his paper is in response to the NHS itself seeking opinions about how it can move away from the centralised approach to IT development. He makes the case that the earlier use of open source software in the NHS was not successful because of certain perceptions: "the myth that it’s mainly programmed by hackers; the legal implications of its licensing models; and the degree to which open source implementations can be supported and maintained."

His claim is that now most major open source software projects are managed by commercial organisations that will provide proper support and maintenance, and that the licences used are also more flexible and agreeable. Times have changed and "the current landscape for open source software is now quite different."

He also encourages the use of of open systems interfaces, so that all data in a system and all functions can be accessed through open interfaces, "so that any software that processes the data, or implements the functions, can be changed."

The Centre for Health Informatics, is a department of the School of Informatics at City University London; the results of its research can be found on its own website.

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