Open Source and the NextGen Health Care IT Community

govlooplogoAs Featured on GovLoop

I spend a fair amount of time at Open Source conferences. I arrive with a government bias plus some of the great ideas that open source enables like transparency and open government. Although most panels/sessions/talks/round tables will eventually get around to the idea of education and work force training, I rarely see anyone responsible for actually delivering or receiving that training at these events.

posscon_logo_transI recently participated in POSSCON, the 3rd annual Palmetto Open Source Software Convention, hosted in South Carolina capitol city of Columbia. My experience with this community was inspiring and I think it can serve as a lesson for many.

During an executive panel discussion the moderator, Matt Asay, asked me to give an example of a government open source project. I described (in layman’s terms) the information challenge in health care, the increasing use of open-standards and open source, and its potential to improve interoperability in health care systems. I also cited the U.S. Health and Human Services’ CONNECT project as a great example of using the open source development and community methodology.

Afterward I was approached by several people who told me “We really couldn’t get what the panel was talking about until you started talking about open source and Health IT as a real example – then we got it.” Open source had little tangible value to this group until it was described in context. What is the impact to a patient when their health care records are incomplete? When their information is scattered between physicians, pharmacies, immediate care centers, rest homes, dentists offices, and hospital emergency rooms? When those systems are not designed to work together? When they understand how open source can help solve these problems, they “get it.”

Twenty students from the South Carolina Rehabilitation Center were there. Their stories were impressive. One student’s career as an LVN had ended with an accident so she was retraining in health information technology. I introduced her to a medical clinic open source entrepreneur from Atlanta that was going to need subject matter expert. Another student’s goal was to open a shelter for homeless vets. We talked about Virginia’s Veteran’s Affairs open-API community portal work – where the community of veterans help an understaffed VA get through paperwork and identify resources for returning vets. She’s now interested in doing the same thing in South Carolina. A third student with a degree in Health Informatics learned about HHS’ electronic health record project, CONNECT. Every discussion included opportunities to leverage open source, and a great desire to improve people’s lives.

The opportunity for open source in health IT is immediately apparent in every niche of that industry. I recently learned my own dentist used open source software to run his clinic! In government, we see this opportunity in the Health and Human Services’ national health information network architecture, in the National Cancer Institute’s research, the way the Social Security Administration handles sensitive health records, and the way the Veteran’s Administration runs hospitals. In a clinical setting, state and local government can expect citizens to be better served through Electronic Health Records services and improved patient care — particularly for under-served communities. The most exciting development is with Personal Health Records, consumer-based patient-centric information that will empower individuals to master their own health care (a topic for another post).

Back to the event itself; interdisciplinary and cross-industry events can be tricky to make successful but can be super-conductors for innovation. The challenge is that different audiences have varying interests and attention spans. Blended audiences, especially Columbia’s with representation from education, business, government and technology, need facilitation if interaction is the goal. POSSCON organizers did a great job of building a strong program that had something for everyone and in a format designed to converge everyone’s interests. POSSCON was a great example of how valuable face-to-face events such as this can be, even though collaboration can be happening every day virtually. Having everyone in a room is critical to inspiring, coalescing, creating and sustaining motion.

I once read that the complexity of today’s problems can only be solved by teams of people who do not naturally work together. Open source software and the kind of thinking and collaboration used to create it provides a framework to solve some of the thorniest and most interesting problems around. I think POSSCON is a wonderful example of this in bringing industry, government and education together under one well-pitched big tent.

Nominations Sought for Open Source Software use in Government

GOSCON_DC2

GOSCON AWARDS for Open Business Use in Government Nominations are now being accepted for the 2009 Excellence Awards for Open Source Business Use in Government.

It’s true.  After five years of operation of the Government Open Source Conference, we’re looking forward to recognizing government employees who have made significant accomplishments in the application of Open Source Technology to meet government business or mission requirements.

To nominate a government employee or project, visit http://www.goscon.org/awards for information and an on-line submission form.  Deadline is Friday Oct 23 2009.

Open Source for America Unvieled at OSCON

osa logo

Not too long ago I attended TransparencyCamp in DC and led a discussion on how to work with government.  The session was intended for technologists and advocates. I was pleasantly

surprised to find one of the participants was a senate staffer.  After listening to much of the discussion she explained that she had worked on a bill that included a

role for open source software which eventually failed to move forward.  Her question to me:  why was that no one from the open source community stepped forward or offered to help answer questions.  Where were they?  Her question gave me pause.

Several moths later, the cavalry has arrived.  Along with the town crier, the

librarian, the community manager, the mayor and a cadre of plumbers.  The newly formed coalition is “Open Source for America”, and I’m pleased to have bee

n a par

t of its founding effort.  Read more at the association web site.

Best Practices for Software Development in Government

presentationimagepngLast winter I received a request from the US Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Policy to come Charleston and meet with a group of innovative law enforcement execs. If you belong to the public safety community or are interested in how governments are making collaboratives work, a copy of my presentation is viewable on google from this link:

http://docs.google.com/Presentation?id=dfj65hxm_1404gk5kchg

Matsue “Ruby City” Journey

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=67348

Matsue City is a beautiful and remote city located in the Shimane Prefecture of Japan. The region has drawn national recognition for the Matsue “Ruby City” project, a highly innovative initiative to promote open source software through a collaborative partnership created by local industry, academia and government.

I was very fortunate to have been invited to participate in a number of events in early February to help share what the state of Oregon, industry, government and the Open Source Lab (OSL) has learned though its years in supporting the growth of the Open Source Community. The visit included meetings with Shimane University’s President Honda; Matsue’s mayor; Shimane Prefecture’s governor; keynoting at a seminar for industry and government; addressing the 37th Open Source Salon of the Open Source Software Society Shimane; spending time with colleagues from Japan’s IPA Open Source Lab (their national referendum on OSS); National Applied Communication Labs and Mr. Inoue and Matz; touring historic and scenic sights in Matsue – a beautiful blend of historic and traditional architecture and modern as well – and enjoying many wonderful meals courtesy of my hosts.

Many thanks especially go to Mr. Doi from the City of Matuse, to Mr. Noda of Shimane University, and especially to Mr. Tansho my host and translator – and of course to Shimane University which sponsored my visit. The dedication of these three individuals to this project is amazing as is the commitment of everyone I met from all sectors – education, private industry and government.

BTW plans are underway for a “Ruby for Business” conference fall of 2009 in Matsue, drop a line if you are intersted in talking with the organizers.

Open Source Voting : An idea of Global Importance

IPA Japan Representatives

IPA Japan Representatives

I just returned from Matsue, Japan, also known famously as “Ruby City” after the programming language whose inventor lives there.

During my stay there I provided the keynote for a Shimane University-sponsored seminar on Open Source Software, Industry and Academic collaboration.  It was an honor to represent some of the institutions and groups in Oregon, the successes and challenges we’ve faced in using, promoting, developing and supporting a full open eco-system in our somewhat unique state.  Key to my message and encouragement to participants from all sectors of their region was this; if you want to demonstrate the value of open source to non-technical constituencies, identify and collaborate on a project with clear public benefit.

One of the panelists was Mr. Hatta from Japan’s Information-Technology Promotion Agency’s (IPA).  He told me later he changed his presentation as I spoke, struck by the proposition of public benefit projects.  I’ll ask for his presentation and share it here soon.

His wrap-up recommendation: create a public benefit project and the suggestion that project might be an Open Source Election system,  apparently an idea with universal appeal/compelling need.

I’ll come back soon to sharing more about my travels to Matsue City, their impressive open source software initiative, the investment their government has made, and the outstanding collaboration between the university, industry and public sectors.

I’d also be remiss in my public benefit duties if I did not provide a final plug for the February 18th Open Source Digital Voting Foundation’s (OSDV.org)  “TrustTheVote” intro in Portland, Oregon (see prior post for agenda).  I’m looking forward to introducing them to my colleagues in Japan soon, and looking forward to hearing from Gregory Miller and John Sebes, the co-founders, even sooner.

osdv_logo

TrustTheVote! intro in Portland, Oregon

Feb 18, 2009, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.

CubeSpace, 622 SE Grand Ave, Portland