The NHS Is Getting Interested In Open Source: And That’s A Good Thing

By Jean van Vuuren, Head of Healthcare UK & Ireland, Alfresco Software

We’re delighted to hear this week from an important partner of ours, Alfresco, which has been doing some very interesting work with the NHS around Open Source – work that’s now evolving into some great VNA developments.

I am delighted to be able to talk to the SynApps community. We see SynApps as one of our most significant implementation partners, so this is a great way to acknowledge that, but also to discuss how we’re making great progress together in a very important market.

That market is the NHS, and together we’ve just built the first UK Open Source VNA (Vendor Neutral Archive) medical data system – based on Alfresco’s award-winning technology together with some functionality from J4Care, and brought to market via SynApps’ integration and professional skills and resources. (Please go here http://www.synapps-solutions.com/products/vna to find out more.)

Why is this a significant development? I can answer the question in three ways: 1, the Open Source angle, 2, the NHS market view and 3, the VNA aspect.

The Open Source angle first. Here I think it’s worth spending a few moments clearing up some mistaken assumptions about Open Source.

First off, Open Source is not free. That isn’t its value or the source of its attraction. Alfresco is an Open Source company that sells to the enterprise. Like all enterprise-facing Open Source vendors, we don’t offer non-cost products, but instead, we offer a free community version of our solution, plus a paid-for, commercially supported and scalable one. What makes it ‘Open Source’ is that with both you have access to the code – and you can see exactly how things get done. Most users of Open Source clinical lead production systems will select a commercially supported release as it is fully supported and fully tested by the vendor. This reduces any clinical risk of running an unsupported and untested platform. At the same time, ‘Open’ really does mean that – Alfresco is all about open standards so as to encourage the most interoperability and sharing of functionality we can. It’s an approach that NHS organisations have already picked up on, even before this VNA work, like a project at Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust. So the first reason I think, that this VNA work we’re doing together is important, is it shows the power of Open Source as an approach in itself.

The days of NHS IT ‘vendor lock-in’ are over

Which brings me to the second point – the NHS and Open Source. The NHS, as it moves on from the National Programme for IT, is becoming more interested in Open Source as a resource. In fact, we’ve been in close contact with the internal team at NHS England that is working with Trust CCIOS (Chief Clinical Information Officers, the heads of IT for many health institutions) (see here to encourage local autonomy and more innovative approaches to sourcing IT, now the days of big contracts are drawing to a close. NHS England is trying to encourage local purchasing and IT decision-making, and it is convinced that Open Source is of great importance in that regard. A key driver is openness and choice – the NHS doesn’t want to have to deal with any kind of vendor lock-in. Open means that NHS developers can adapt code and play with systems in a way that suits them, not the vendor, in other words, which is also seen as a big bonus by NHS England leadership. So, the second reason I think it’s important that Alfresco and SynApps are coming together with a medical solution that is Open Source is that it’s at a time when the NHS is really starting to be open to the possibilities that entails.

And the third reason we are interested in this partnership between ourselves, SynApps and J4Care are the same reasons SynApps has been promoting a VNA and Document Management approach; there is just so much that NHS Trusts can do with this form of data management! VNAs are swiftly emerging as the best way for organisations to not just store and easily access (in a safe and secure manner) important patient images, but also all the associated clinical information that clinicians want to see online – that single electronic patient record ideal that never really came out of the National Programme, but which we all see as key to the ‘paperless NHS’ model the Secretary of State said he wants in place by 2018.

Three powerful reasons, I hope you agree, on why this first NHS Open Source VNA is worthy of your attention. We’re really excited about this, and hope you are too.

SynApps, Alfresco and J4Care will be revealing more about their new Open Source VNA solution at launch event for the Open Source VNA solution on March 26 (1.30 – 4.30 pm) at the Park Plaza Hotel, Leeds, LS1 5NS.
http://www.alfresco.com/events/open-source-vna-launch