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Flexibase and Code4Health – the wider implications?

Flexibase has been recently released as a publicly available Open Source application. As the foundation for the Government’s pioneering Code4Health platform, this move is set to offer a whole new way to build future technologies, as well as highlighting the huge success of Open Source applications in the public sector.

Flexibase is a framework of reusable components, required by all business-connected websites and intranets. Unlike common web content management systems, Flexibase is designed to allow a developer to quickly design a platform with authentication, but with much more freedom over how all of the components are connected together, and with easy integration to other systems and databases.

One of the many projects which Flexibase has been involved with is the UK Government’s Code 4 Health project. This is a platform operated by Apperta, the NHS Open Source Foundation, enabling healthcare professionals to connect with technical and patient communities to work together more closely on developing code and building applications. It was clear that in order for a programme like this to be effective, it had to be built upon a framework which allows expansion and integration to other external systems, databases and applications.

Code4Health is focused on building communities for the healthcare sector and putting the patient back at the heart of operations. Apperta is currently prototyping new methods of engaging suppliers, and one of the key points is that software funded by public funds should be fully available to the public sector, and the wider community. This may seem obvious, but recent history shows that that the health sector commonly invests in creating software which, once built, requires further investment for licenses, then other departments have to pay these fees again, and the software ends up being owned by an external private company. This model conflicts with the best interests of the healthcare professional and the patient.

The Code4Health platform makes it easy for people to engage in the programme and encourage a community and collaborative ethos. There are all sorts of healthcare applications being created by talented developers but a major issue many encounter is that they are not open enough to effectively join up. For example, your fitness record collected on your phone rarely makes its way to your GP so although it's useful to you, it does not contribute to your overall health picture. The Code4Health platform enables app developers to use Open Standard connectors to access drugs databases, patient data and other information as well as the NHS Spine – a super highway connecting GPs and other health professionals.

The overall target for Code4Health is to improve patient outcomes through the effective use of the right technology. Providing better data to clinicians in a timely manner enables them to make more informed decisions, more quickly. Live applications, originating from the Code4Health platform include; Open Odonto for dental services, OpenEP for ePrescriptions, Open-eOBs for nursing observations, and OpenEyes for electronic ophthalmic records. As applications continue to develop, we will see better communication between the NHS and patients, improved interactivity when booking or re-arranging appointments, and better resource planning. Long term, it could be a solution to the NHS’s four-hour rule. The organisation currently follows a target whereby at least 95 per cent of patients attending an A&E department must be seen, treated, admitted or discharged in under four hours. This is a blunt measure which can cause patients to wait four hours when they could have been cared for much more quickly. By making important healthcare data more accessible and open, the future could see us being able to know the queuing time at the walk-in centre, surgery or A&E and in some cases, empower patients and professionals to make different decisions which reduce waiting times for everyone.

OpusVL, the creators of Flexibase, have been actively involved in the Code4Health programme and have implemented this software not only in the NHS but in the financial and retail sectors too, where there are similar needs pertaining to the security, performance and flexibility of business applications. We’re helping the NHS to build a sustainable strategy for the platform, whilst prototyping the emerging commercial models to provide Open Source to other sectors in an effective way. Code4Health has already sparked the creation of other mature applications being promoted to the Ripple platform, which is more focused on testing and use-case applications that continue to grow to become candidates for live use.

The implications of Flexibase and Code4Health are far reaching, not just in the public sector, but in the commercial space as well. It creates opportunities for businesses that have an Open Source model to provide ongoing value services and innovation when solutions are not yet available. This marketplace is being fostered across the wider industry by the Open Source Consortium, an organisation with the vision to allow all markets to benefit from similar advances in Open Source technology.

Code4Health is already a live programme, which is growing rapidly. I’d personally urge all healthcare professionals to visit the Code4Health website, browse through the various communities and connect with people who share a common interest, or who are in your local area. If you cannot find a relevant community then it’s easy and simple to make your own and invite other people to join. NHS hack days are also a useful opportunity to connect with some of the people involved in the Code4Health project.

The more professionals we can get behind Code4Health, the more successful the project will become and this will have a positive effect in making Open Source a more mainstream business consideration in global commercial markets as well as the public sector.

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