Interoperability: An Open-source Toolkit
Within radiology, interoperability and sharing information are among our most challenging and important tasks. Not only does the coming wave of adoption of electronic medical record (EMR) technology mean that we need to be able to exchange electronic information with other providers and health-care software systems, but even within our enterprises, we need to connect disparate data sources as a critical part of how we take care of patients. Historically, IT professionals have relied on proprietary software packages to provide health-care software, but a growing movement toward open-source software signifies new options for health-care providers in selecting the best tools to meet our software needs. Open-source software has been licensed to allow the end user to view and modify its source code; often, the license requires changes in the code to be made available to a group named in the license. It is fairly typical for the software, or at least the source code, to be available without cost. Some might equate open-source software with free software, which can be misleading. Some free software is not open-source software: You can use the software without paying, but you cannot see or alter the source code. Similarly, there are companies that profit from open-source software, usually by providing support for the software under some type of maintenance package. There are myriad applications available for radiologists that border on the cheap, but they might not be the best choices. Likewise, there are still plenty of vendors committed to giving you the very best solution at the most expensive price. How the IT department makes software decisions of this magnitude depends on several variables:
- the willingness of management personnel to entrust the bread and butter of the business to open-source alternatives,
- overall budgetary restrictions or cost-saving expediencies, and
- the knowledge of the IT staff.