Event details

Medfloss.org – A comprehensive open information portal for medical free/libre and open source software

von Holger Schmuhl (University Hospital Heidelberg / Medfloss.org)

Thursday, 24.05.2012, Open Source Arena, 13:30-14:00 Uhr

The health care domain is in general a very specialized domain and notably also when it comes to software that is utilized in its daily routine. Dedicated and substantial communication and information representation standards, numerous and diversified terminologies and encoding systems, profound legal regulations, unique requirements regarding the maintenance and availability of software, dynamic and ever changing environment concerning the underlying medical knowledge and regulatory implications, and the criticality to life in certain cases are just some aspects that make this field so complex from a software angle.

Many argue that there is nearly no Free Software (FS) or Open Source software (OS) available that has been designed with the health care domain in mind. Those few that have been developed are said to be unstable or insufficient for daily use and are seen more like a hacker's paradise than an user-centered, intuitive and safe to use software product. At latest when the discussions argue about the fulfillment of legal requirements like the medical devices act (defines special requirements on the way software is developed, tested and deployed) and the availability of professional support, popular barriers to the adoption of FS & OS are named and probably everyone agrees that the FS & OS paradigms will not work in health care and that one should stick for gods sake to the proven and well established proprietary solutions available.

However health care is also a field, in which nearly everyone has to cope with similar problems, in which nowadays nearly every workflow is assisted by or based on software and in which strong cost pressure and heavy workload is omnipresent. So users just want to get along with their actual daily work and be in doing so equitably supported by software that is adjusted to their needs and continuously enhanced to fulfill new requirements that constantly arise from their highly dynamic field of expertise.

The idea of collaboration in software development and the open exchange of software and related knowledge immediately pop into ones mind as natural and convenient means to enduringly address these major challenges. Still it is practiced very rarely, primarily only in research and adoption could not be observed in health care.

Happily there are quite some specialized FS & OS available. Most of it is well grown and absolutely feasible for health care. But one common problem is that these are scattered all over various code repositories (Sourceforge, Github, Savannah, Google code, Launchpad, …) and other kind of general purpose information collection (Wikipedia, Joinup, ...) on the Internet. Furthermore those databases do not adequately include and present specialties that are needed to identify - on a well-informed basis - appropriate software projects for the many specific purposes in the health care domain. Moreover most repositories do not interlink projects with other crucial and closely related resources like service providers, reference installations etc.. No sufficient portal has been available that has pooled all relevant projects and its resources, assured information quality whilst offering a maximum of the data that is actually needed.

Out of this need Medfloss.org has been created as an open information portal and is online since February 2010.

Medfloss.org provides a comprehensive and structured overview of Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) projects in the domains of medical informatics and health care. It is an open information portal that aims to foster the exchange of ideas, knowledge and experiences about existing projects and initiate the required ecosystem.

Beside standard project properties like license, programming language, platform etc. also professional terminology is utilized to denote projects in various categories. For example supported enterprise functions state in which workflows the software could be applied and implemented interfaces and data models conform to health-IT standards can be highlighted by its referring terms.

Projects can be interlinked with scientific publications that may offer extended and more detailed information about the purpose, architecture and made experiences.

Professional service providers (companies) that offer services like support, customization, development and training can be hooked up per project. So potential customers have these directly at hand while reviewing relevant projects.

Related events like conferences, fairs and other gatherings can be added. Normally FS & OS projects do not have the financial background for a booth at trade fairs or other commercially oriented exhibitions and conferences. In contrary potential users especially physicians probably do not join or even are aware of FS & OS unconferences and similar meetings where they could get a chance to meet the actual project community. The listing of and interlinkage with events should bring both sides together.

Finally also other resources of various types can be entered in the database at Medfloss.org and interlinked with the previous listed object types. There could be reference sites that have successfully deployed a project, non-for-profit organizations and working groups that are coordinating collaboration or advocating for its use or just similar sources like Medfloss.org that could be consulted for further information.

To sum up, projects incorporated with publications, professional service providers, events and other resources are not a sufficient alternative to the yet missing marketing machinery or a cure to the nearly non-existence of commercial business and wide adoption of medical FS & OS in health care. Yet it provides crucial support on the path towards a working ecosystem.

Complex issues related to implications of legal regulations on medical FS & OS, public procurement process, vendor lock-in and other challenges in health care IT may not and are not intended to be solved by Medfloss.org. Yet additional helpful information could be aggregated within the portal like for example the medical device class of listed software projects or a country specific guideline to the deployment of medical FS & OS in a clinical setting.

Über den Autor Holger Schmuhl:

Holger Schmuhl holds an diploma in computer science with specialization on clinical information management of the University Leipzig. He worked 3 years as system integrator and project manager and 1,5 years as application development manager at GE Healthcare. Currently he holds a position as research assistant at the Dept. of Information Technology and Medical Engineering of the University Hospital Heidelberg. He is writing his doctoral thesis about free software and open source in health care.