FOSS at HIMSS: Medsphere’s HIMSS talk

Medsphere, an open-source VistA vendor and their customers, gave a talk on their system and their strategy at HIMSS yesterday.

Relative to the number of vendors present at HIMSS, very few held a session at the “University” section of the tradeshow. Medsphere did and highlighted several of their key successes. Overall, I was impressed. Read on after the gap for my review of the session.
Medsphere started the talk with CEO Mike Doyle discussing the product and the strategy. Sadly, I missed most of this; who knew that the exhibit hall takes 20 minutes to cross…

Still I reviewed the slides and they appeared to be similar to the talk that Rick Jung gave at SCALE, so I think I know the gist of what was said.

Most impressive, was the content of what was said by Medspheres customers, here are some samples from the new Century City roll out:

“Medsphere is new and excited”

“The three-way relationship with Medsphere and Keane (the financial systems provider) is the best experience I have had working with third-party vendors in thirty years”

Medsphere was “brutally honest” but “did not alienate”.

From what I could tell, this hospital was up against a wall and Medsphere came through for them with a very fast VistA implementation. The other person to sing Medspheres praise was David Wiles of Medspheres original Midland deployment. As a joke he started by saying “the greatest sign that Medsphere delivered is that I still have a job”. While I think there is some humor there, David backed Medsphere in a way no one else had before him. Having him as a continued reference is very important.

The biggest problem facing Medsphere is that they have a totally new team. That team looks solid, Kathy Doub-English and Rick Jung (you are still listed as the CMO on the website Rick… fyi) are impressive players and bring a lot to the table. (Surviving me at conferences is a skill in itself). I have not yet meet Mike Doyle but rumor has it that he won the respect of Steve Shreeve before Steve and Medsphere formally parted ways, that kind of “underground endorsement” has a tremendous amount of credibility with me and the community generally.

Medsphere also has an impressive strategy. They seem to understand the opportunity for a VistA-company to form the backbone for the VistA-community. The key to succeeding is enabling those around you to succeed. Thats central to the open source ethos and Medsphere has grasped that. (Heck thats basically slide number 7 in the presentation, which I would publish here, but it is labeled “proprietary and confidential” on the bottom of the page… Can you say “over active legal department?”)

They are calling their strategy “Expand and Renew”, and they have announced a partnership with Tolven in conjunction with that. That is big enough news that it merits its own post, once I have figured out exactly what “partnership” means.

Still, a solid new team and a good strategy does not an company make, even talented people have to execute. Here is the summary of the challenges ahead.

* They wasted a tremendous amount of capital on a lawsuit. To succeed that capital should have been funding development.

* They are still on the lookout for a CTO: they need someone capable of translating their vision into a technical reality across all of their various efforts.

* The “old Medsphere team” earned their chops on the Midland deployment. The “new Medsphere team” earned their chops on the Century City roll-out.

* Because of the timeframe on Century City, they used the traditional CPRS client, rather than their Medsphere CIS client. They have an aggressive schedule for moving the Medsphere CIS into their customer base, but currently it is relatively untested code.

* Medsphere CIS, Medsphere’s mono-based CPRS replacement, is critical to the “Expand and Renew” strategy. It is the only code advantage that Medsphere has on DSS, its main VistA competitor. DSS has multiple proprietary components and a much deeper VistA talent pool. OpenVistA CIS is Medspheres ace-in-the-hole.

* Getting OpenVistA CIS stable, and deployed at their customers sites is likely to be the best objective measure of their ability to deliver new solutions, as opposed to merely supporting FOIA VistA.

Overall, Medspheres strategy appears very solid. They are making the right moves, but the question is can they deliver with this new team. Despite everything that has happened, they still have the opportunity to be the de facto vendor within the VistA community. When Medsphere started, they were the only game in town, but the open source community does not wait for companies to finish lawsuits. Since the lawsuit began, several players have matured as viable alternatives to the VistA throne, most notably OpenMRS, ClearHealth and Tolven. That makes partnering with Tolven a particularly smart move. But then again what does “partnering” mean.

Will Medsphere make it?


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