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The NHS must embrace open source to improve

The future of the NHS could greatly be improved if it quickly adopts open source technology, particularly when it comes to Vendor Neutral Archive (VNA) solutions.

This is according to CIO at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust Rachel Dunscombe, who we recently caught up with to learn more about the transformation facing the UK healthcare system.

Dunscombe told us that she is a strong supporter of open source in the NHS because it removes many of the risks presented by using proprietary products.

When using solutions that are specific to a particular supplier, she explained, there is always the chance that the company may go bankrupt or into administration, leaving users of their products unable to get at their data.

In some instances, although the supplier goes bust, she said, organisations can still use the software but because it cannot be upgraded or modified, problems begin to present themselves.

With open source, users always have access to the original source code and so, should the provider no longer exist, data can still be retained and moved to a new solution with no loss.

“[In the UK] we are working in groups called communities of interest to actually steer open source products to make sure the clinicians can get what they need from each product on an ongoing basis,” Dunscombe said.

“If anything does happen to that community, with it being open source another group or a single organisation could take that source code and maintain it itself,” she added.

Dunscombe explained that open source becomes all the more important when in the context of a VNA.

Typically VNAs were associated with the radiology department of a hospitals but now, more and more Trusts are transferring other data in archiving systems from other areas of hospitals.

When this archiving technology becomes open source, Dunscombe claims, it can become interoperable, allowing the incorporation of different types of data from all over a hospital.

Dunscombe noted that many open source companies have an open interfacing ethos as well, allowing products to connect in with others easily.

“The VNA needs to be as open as possible so it can interoperate all those pieces of data about the patient so there will be things like x-rays, documents, medical photography and what I like is you see a lot of open source have an open ethos about interfacing,” she claimed.

“Most open products that will connect in most easily with other products are the open source ones in my view,” she added.

In Line With Paperless Goals

When asked whether the adoption of open source technology in the NHS, particularly for VNAs, is in line with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s paperless proposals, Dunscombe was quick to say it absolutely is.

“We are moving away from paper documents and this will take discharge letters, medical photographs, ICU charts, heart charts and a lot of things that have been traditionally on paper and actually the wonderful thing is it makes it available across any site,” she said.

When speaking to other NHS professionals, 24N has identified that many believe 100% paperless is an impossible goal and “paper light” is a much more realistic state to work towards.

However, when we asked Dunscombe about this, she revealed she believes that paper light is simply one step towards paperless.

“I think paper light is a step on the journey. I think you’ve just got to conceive that you go paper light and hopefully, eventually, you go paperless,” she claimed.

SynApps Solutions Launches Open Source VNA

In light of the growing popularity of open source and the possible benefits it has for the NHS, content management firm SynApps Solutions has launched its own open source VNA.

The company has teamed up with Alfresco to deliver the solution which aims to give healthcare organisations full ownership of their technology.

“We are delighted to be offering certified technology we know works in the NHS via the highly promising route of Open Source,” claimed SynApps Solutions sales and marketing director Mark Winstone.