A Truly Open Letter to the AMA

Dear American Medical Association,

This is your future speaking.

My, my but medicine has grown big and truly complicated. The future is at stake and what’s the common denominator? The MBA’s have moved in permanently, quality control matters and it is time to lead.

Think of a doctor as farmer with a digging stick. Think of a farmer with a plow. Think of a farmer with a combine. Think of a farmer with a combine, accountant, marketing and meteorology expert all in one. Think software.

We are somewhere in the digging stick–plow range in our communications efficiency and ability to produce. The reach of a practitioner is painfully limited and becoming more limited each time form A76-B is created by a beaureaucrat and slid in front of a practitioners face. Not that documentation is bad. But in an end-to-end medical software world, it needn’t be so time-consuming, repetitive or onerous. It should allow the practitioner to master the task, not the task to master the practitioner and provide greatly improved quality control at the same time.

The past is littered with a multitude of medical software failures. The present is punctuated with practitioners ready to take the plunge to make ‘the’ software that will take the profession by storm and make its developers a bajillion dollars. Software that never seems to materialize, or whose small market and incompatible software is jealously guarded by the company that wrote it.

It is chaos. It is crisis. Out of crisis is born opportunity. And the government, with HIPAA, is ever ready to step into the opportunity to clean up a mess that the profession should have cleaned up long ago. More importantly the profession still can.

The future calls. Opportunity knocks. The song of hope sings: free and open source medical software may become abundant in the near future and has the best 1, 2, 3 chance for making the reach of medicine exceed its grasp. It simply requires leadership in the form of funding, acceptance and widespread advocacy of these efforts. The seeds of the future are sown, but it won’t change overnight. Generational change is what’s occurring. Over and over again the free and open way has succeeded in the past. While closed-source efforts have yielded fragmentation, non-existence, or expensive failure.

Ever heard of the Internet, TCP/IP, Apache, Linux and scores of others? Ever heard of GNUmed, FreePM, FreeMed, Tk_familypractice, OIO, MDSchedule, LinuDent and many others? You may soon. The most important question to you the AMA is: When? When will the profession stop reacting and take the future into its own hands? When will it unite and play what could be its strongest card: open source software.

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