Linux Medical News Turns 2

Hooray! March 30th is Linux Medical News 2nd birthday. 430 articles have been posted since the first article on March 30th, 2000. The site has grown considerably since then, adding a newsletter , a surprisingly active Jobs/Classified’s section, hosting several lists such as MedNews and ZopyMed as well as increasing its audience by a factor of 10 over its first week. More importantly, significant events have happened in the world of free and open source medical software.

2 years ago, many free and open source medical software projects were just beginning and full of idealism. Unfortunately, there was little in the way of ready for prime-time software. However, there was a breathless enthusiasm and a sense of promise in the air, that vexing medical IT problems such as incompatibility, vendor-lock in, fragmentation and high cost could be surmounted with free and open source software.

Since then, a little of the boundless excitement in free and open source medical software faded as the dot-com era boom turned bust. Some of the optimistic estimates for real-world free and open source medical software product availability became replaced by a sobering reality.

Despite this, many projects such as FreePM, GNUmed and many more have showed enormous progress in a short time, nearing real-world ready status. Psychiatry-oriented SQLClinic has actually reached 1.0 status.

The dream of free and open source medical software unifying medicine under standard, non-proprietary software with its attendant increases in quality of care and decrease in cost is very much alive. Considerable progress toward these goals have been made in these two short years. If large scale events such as the now commonplace embrace of free and open source software by the likes of IBM, Sun Microsystems and Wall Street continues, then the possibility of a free and open source medical software industry being born is high. Linux Medical News will continue to be honored to be a chronicler and participant in these transforming events.

BBJ: Health care takes steps to improve communication

The Boston Business Journal has an article about some of the promise and difficulties of CPR’s (acronym of the moment: Computer based Patient Records). ‘…Hieb says there are about a dozen major vendors with CPR products. “No organization, no vendor has learned all the tricks needed to succeed in this market,” he said. “The technology is far from complete. It’s still being developed and fine-tuned.” Somewhat interesting read, like that 500 of the roughly 5000 US hospitals are now electronic, but I’m a little suspicious of these because another set of numbers about percent of GDP at the very end of the article are frankly, absurd.

Yahoo: Wall Street Embraces Linux

Yahoo News is reporting on Merrill Lynch’s ‘top down’ efforts to deploy RedHat Linux in its organization: ‘…Merrill’s plans, and others like it, are very significant because they are the first companywide–rather than departmental–Linux implementations…”We are telling all of our vendors that they need to have some kind of Linux strategy,” says Carey, chief technology architect at Merrill. “We are hearing that consistently from everyone on Wall Street.”…one of the big benefits that Carey sees is that Merrill can write an application once and then deploy it with minimal work on mainframes, minicomputers, desktops, laptops and handhelds–whether it be on Intel (NasdaqNM:INTC – news) hardware or something else…’

Caldwell: Tk Family Practice Version 50 Released

Alex Caldwell is announcing the availability of the latest Tk_familypractice EMR on Sourceforge. Highlights are an improved installation script and browser interface. The full text of the announcement is within.

I posted a new version – version 50 – of the Tkfp program for Linux on the Sourceforge site at http://www.sourceforge.net/projects/tkfp

Changes:

  • The install script works better. Gives you choice of installing postgres copy (it isn’t needed to run Tkfp) I’ve tried it on 3 different machines and it seems pretty reliable so far.
  • Two new objects for the progress note templates – one is a pop up menu for choosing the day of the week. The other is a menu for choosing various common time intervals.
  • There is a menu in the admin tab for running a set of scripts that back up the data and/or the program.
  • A file chooser dialog added to admin for selecting a scanned signature file for providers. The file is then linked to all the necessary places where the scanned signature appears. Before you had to put this in the right places by hand.
  • There is a button for viewing the fax spool directory. If you click on a file, it will be loaded into an
    editor so you can change the fax message quickly.

  • The demographic form can now be toggled between English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. This is pretty easy to program. If anybody would like to work on other languages, I can send you a file with the lines that need to be translated. You can use any language for which there are Unicode values for the characters. It would be interesting to do Japanese or some other non-latin based languages.

    Stuff I’m working on for next version:

  • Improved Web Browser interface. Using tclhttpd, a powerful web server that is already in Tkfp, I’ve been working on a better Web Browser based interface. It uses frames and has a layout
    somewhat similar to the desktop GUI with a list of names and drugs on the left and a set of menus roughly corresponding to the notebook tabs and data frames on the right. With tclhttpd, you can extend the web server to do all kinds of things by writing code in Tcl. It’s similar to the idea of ZOPE. Using HTML forms you can define URL’s that process the data and output HTML. So most everything you can do in the GUI can be done inside a web browser. HTML forms are more limited than Tk widgets so you can’t have fancy stuff like
    sliders, spinners, tabbed notebooks etc. But the Web Browser interface can be very useful for using the EMR from remote locations.

    Chris Deam is working on a Tk interface for scanning images.

    Alex Caldwell

  • Dvorak: Is Linux Your Next OS?

    No less a personage than John Dvorak has weighed in on the near future of Linux:
    ‘…Unfortunately, the Linux community spends too much of its energy on things such as nomenclature (like the name GNU/Linux versus Linux). I sense that Linux is at a crossroads of becoming very important or becoming a footnote in desktop OS history. Right now, I’m banking on it becoming very important´┐Żand I mean on the desktop.’

    Availity.com Uses Proprietary Software to Process Transactions

    The Atlanta Business Journal (free registration required) has an article about Availity.com a company that ‘… uses proprietary software that allows providers to file claims securely online. Specifically, health care professionals can better transact business with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida and Humana through Availity.com’s Web portal…’ The article notes that the company saves a tremendous amount of time and money to process claims: 25 cents versus $2-3 per claim. The major questions in my mind is why has this not occurred long ago among insurers themselves to lower costs and why does this require proprietary software? Despite this, congratulations to Availity.com

    PDA’s May Become Essential

    The Chicago Tribune is reporting that PDA’s such as Palm and others may soon become as indispensible as a stethoscope: “Today when a patient sees his physician consulting a PDA, he may wonder what’s going on,” said Rosenbloom, an emergency room physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “But some day, the patient will wonder what’s happening if his doctor doesn’t consult a PDA.”