Tags: Open Source

Will Open Source Prove Crucial In The Move To Five Year Forward View?

Ben_Goldacre_TAM_London_2009_(2)Technology is acknowledged as being crucial to the salvation of the NHS – a fact acknowledged by NHS England’s leadership, most recently in its 2014-15 Annual Report, where it is stated that better use of data and technology has the power to “improve choice and outcomes for patients, allow them to take more control, reduce the burden on front-line staff, increase accountability and support the NHS as an engine of science and economic growth”.

It’s regrettable, then, that we are still hitting NHS technology roadblocks. I refer to the General Practice Extraction Service (GPES), whose cost rose from £14m to over £40m with only NHS England so far able to use it.

However, it’s less useful to criticise this particular project than it is to look for new ways of doing Health IT better.

An important clue in the discussion of GPES was there. Listen to well-known, medical sector commentator Ben Goldacre, who posted this statement on the GPES row: “[This is why] we need open APIs, open data, open source, shared mapping ontologies &c to permit innovation AND inter-operability”.

Why are people like Goldacre talking about open data and open APIs? A growing number of NHS Health IT experts – including NHS England itself, as well as commentators like Goldacre – see incredible potential in de-risking IT projects by accessing the power and scope of a wider, supportive Open Source community.

‘All kind of vendor tricks’

Those are important stakeholders to get behind Open Source. Much more important ones are actual practitioners – front-line NHS IT leaders who are using Open Source. We have worked with many, as our Clinical Content Store has an Open Source option.

Take just one example – an Integrated Care Trust in the North of England whose CIO told an audience of NHS health leaders and other HIT (Health IT) stakeholders recently why she was so attracted to the idea: “The entire marketplace that comes through our door is the commercialised EPRs – the big American vendors, trying to get our time and trying to sell us the big Americanised products. They do have a lot of ‘pulling power’ and work very hard to get you to buy their products,” she says.

The problem is, the situation is much more complicated at the coalface – and she needs more flexibility and a wider range of options to deal with the reality she sees than is on offer, basically. “We have got about 300 systems in my organisation alone, because it is made up of several previous Trusts and organisations put together, so I have a whole set of systems to deal with,” she says. “And you see all kinds of tricks from vendors who don’t work in Open Systems who try to make sure you can’t get to the data. We all need in the NHS to abstract data from applications so that we don’t have that situation any more.”

She contrasts this situation with the Open Source alternative, as she sees it: “I can put my clinicians into a product community; we can help steer it – indeed, it is really up to us to make it go somewhere – It is slightly lazy always selecting a safe vendor (but knowing you’re paying over the odds for that ‘safety’) as opposed to contributing to a community where you are steering the product. I also think there are many advantages in the longer term in this kind of shared product development.”

But perhaps the single statement that shows why people from Goldacre to NHS CCIOs are right is summed up by her last remark to the audience about all this: “I just can’t tolerate vendor lock-in any more.”

Is it time to look at Open Source as a way to avoid many of the problems of older style technology delivery? I think it is. Of course, it’s not a silver bullet and won’t solve all your problems overnight – this is real life, after all.

But to get to the kind of NHS Simon Stevens envisages, I suspect Open Source is going to play a much bigger part than any of us can imagine right now. What do you think?

Tony Backhouse

Head, SynApps Healthcare Practice UK Team

SynApps Applauds New IT Trade Body’s Demands For Better Information Governance In The UK Public Sector

Tony Backhouse 27f8d29By Tony Backhouse, Head of Healthcare Practice, SynApps Solutions

As we all settle down to the next five years of our new government, now is the time to start a debate about the best way to help deliver the most effective public services.

Technology is often pushed to the top of the queue when it comes to transforming public services, as we all know. Critics tend to respond that technology is often used an alternative to increased investment.

They may well have a point, and after five years of austerity, many public sector leaders wonder if there’s any ‘fat’ left to cut before we get to real flesh and bone. But in the NHS, there is a clear response, in the form of the seminal ‘Five Year Forward View’, to this question: we need more money and we need creative, intelligent use of digital solutions, too.

Here at SynApps, we know from our work on Vendor Neutral Archiving and Open Source clinical content solutions that stakeholders are increasingly convinced that smart technology is an invaluable tool in their hands.

A new call we can all get behind

However, one big barrier remains. It’s not a functionality problem. We have great technology already.

What we are missing is a common, easy way for those technologies – at all levels, between all sorts of partner organisations and teams in health, social and community care – to work together.

What’s holding us back: silos. silos of information, the way we have sectioned up data and patient information resources in ways that make it impossible to connect up the way we want.

That’s why we are throwing our support behind the call by the new pressure group of vendors behind networking technologies in the public sector, Innopsis for more effective, safer information sharing across the public sector.

The body, which launched last week after a re-branding from its previous identity as PSNGB, says that what the heads of major Departments like Health and DWP should be doing is taking on board the potential to transform public services by better enabling organisations to safely share more information – something it sees as a “huge, largely untapped opportunity” for UK Plc.

The evidence is mounting up at the coalface

Who can disagree with its further point that if public sector organisations could safely share information, for example across multi-agency safeguarding hubs, which could form a single point of contact to report safeguarding concerns, we can make real progress here.

Progress and savings, too. This is not just Innopsis’ conviction but that of many experienced leaders in both the buyer and commercial community around the NHS. And it’s ours based on the real savings we can see our Trust customers achieving every day.

Let’s hope Whitehall listens to Innopsis, our customers and the larger community at this formative time – as the next five years could be a lot more successful and productive as a result.

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 https://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.

SynApps Solutions and Alfresco Schedule Key Open Source VNA Launch Event

Content management leader SynApps Solutions and its key technology partner Alfresco set to unveil new Open Source NHS IT solution

Maidenhead, UK, 26 February, 2015 – Content management leader SynApps Solutions and its key technology partner Alfresco are to host a launch event for an Open Source VNA.

VNA (Vendor Neutral Archive) is a strongly-emerging standards-based way of extending PACS (Picture Archiving and Communications System) services to manage DICOM and other format content to make the sharing of medical and patient information as easy and safe as possible.

The additional benefit of using Open Source resources means Trusts looking to evolve their own local, workable health IT (HIT) solutions can take full ownership of the code and develop it to meet their specific institutional requirements as well as facilitate the sharing of NHS Apps built on the platform.

NHS health leaders, NHS Chief Clinical Information Officers and other HIT stakeholders are being invited to hear more at a special launch event being held on March 26 (1.30 – 4.30 pm) at the Park Plaza Hotel, Leeds, LS1 5NS.

The event will explore the benefits of a VNA-based approach to creating powerful Clinical Archives using the only Open Source document management platform suited for the purpose, from Alfresco.

Attendees will hear from NHS England’s Open Source Programme internal champion Peter Coates, as well as from Open Source VNA thought leader Rachel Dunscombe, CIO at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust. Coates will explore how health and social care organisations can make the most of the growing range of Open Source systems coming on-stream, plus how to get them to yield flexible integration and lower costs, while Dunscombe will discuss why it is important to the NHS and in particular Hospitals to bring together Open Source and VNA technologies.

“We are delighted to be offering “certified” technology which we know works to Trusts via the highly promising route of Open Source,” confirmed SynApps Solutions Sales & Marketing Director, Mark Winstone.

“The Leeds launch promises to be an excellent forum to look at the new product, engage in detailed discussion with VNA and Open Source technology pioneers and experts, as well as network with peers in NHS HIT,” he added.

To secure your FREE place as an NHS IT professional, please visit: http://pages.alfresco.com/open-source-vna-launch-registration.html

About SynApps

SynApps is an independent services and solutions company specialising in Enterprise Content Management (ECM) technologies. Founded in 2003 by former Documentum services professionals, the company provides consultancy, implementation and support services for EMC Documentum, and has authored a suite of content integration solutions, ConXApps, that allow businesses to quickly maximise their investment in ECM technologies.

Organisations across healthcare, government and commercial markets rely on SynApps solutions and services to capture and share knowledge more dynamically and efficiently.

Find out more at synapps-solutions.com, or follow on Twitter @SynAppsSol