Open source resources are paving the way for discovery and innovation across countless disciplines. Scholars, scientists and software developers alike are realizing the benefits that this type of collaboration can have for their respective industries and the world as a whole, as they work toward making open source a standard practice. Numerous verticals have demonstrated how open source software allows developers to balance customization. The seamless integration creates better products and more satisfactory user experiences, yet the healthcare industry has proven to be more apprehensive. In order for healthtech companies to get the maximum benefits of the open source community, they’ll need to address these three concerns.
The beautiful thing about open source software is that the transparency and reduced barriers to access make the programs universally attainable and infinitely pliable. Developers can realize great potential if foundational software become public commodities, but there need to be systems in place that ensure open source software are regulated and reliable.
In the world of healthtech, regulation is a difficult and compound issue. In addition to the standard concerns of regulating open source software, such as licensing practices and reliability of the program, the primary concern of healthcare providers is that the tools they use give results that are medically sound. Many software solutions in the healthcare industry optimize hospital workflows or facilitate communication between providers and patients, but others affect treatment or medication management directly. Individual providers will be reluctant to use any software that isn’t vetted by the medical community as a whole. Open source software in healthcare also presents a dilemma of culpability. In the event that a program built on open source software fails and results in adverse effects for a patient, who can be held legally responsible? The medical and tech communities have to intersubjectively determine the criteria that open source software has to meet and a body that can make sure regulations are being followed.
Few industries have compliance guidelines as rigorous as in the field of healthcare and the software that providers utilize have to pass a litany of security standards. No matter the size of the organization, or whether the information is stored in on-prem servers or in the cloud, the sensitivity of the information requires a heightened response to security risks. Robust endpoint protection, comprehensive backup and disaster recovery plans and end-to-end encryption of all information in transit are fundamental qualities of a secure system. Within institutions there are also regulations that determine who has access to certain patient information, which means that healthtech companies need to prioritize access control functionality as well.
In the United States, HIPAA is the foundational piece of legislation for compliance regulation and supplemental medical privacy laws can vary from state to state. Software that’s developed with the intention of being open source needs to take into account the fact that compliance regulations aren’t a static issue. Legislation is constantly evolving and isn’t homogenous across territories. In order for the medical community to get on board with open source, they need to be assured that they can easily rewrite software or integrate with APIs to adhere to current compliance standards without leaving their programs vulnerable or creating bugs. Currently, only enterprise-grade open source software facilitates HIPAA compliance. Developers looking to get into the healthtech space need to keep that in mind when building their product roadmaps.
At a high level, the possibility of collaboration and innovation are exciting qualities drawing people toward the open source movement, but developing software isn’t something people typically do just as a hobby. Even if many people enjoy writing, editing and improving code, they need to be incentivized to put in the time and effort. Historically, money is a great motivator in both the tech and healthcare industries. There is a well-paved path showing how people can profit from licensing proprietary software, but the ways to make money off of open source software are more obscure. In that way, convincing people to invest in open source is much more cumbersome.
While a devotion to the well-being of others is a guiding value for healthtech businesses, they’re also selling products and services just like in any other industry. Leaders in this field are beginning to recognize the potential of making large returns on investments when developing open source software. Individual developers list altruism, community recognition and potential for professional opportunities as reasons to write and contribute to these programs. The challenge of the open source movement is to either think of how businesses can be monetarily incentivized to develop open source software, or to expand the non-monetary benefits that individuals see in a way that motivates larger organizations to participate. Others suggest that it’s not the healthcare institutions rather than the developers who should be incentivized to invest in open source software because of how it can ease the burden of IT infrastructure costs overall.
Innovation from open source software has the potential to revolutionize the healthtech industry, strengthen our healthcare system and increase access to medical care globally. Resolving the questions of regulation, compliance and incentivization are the steps in bridging the gap between the spheres of open source and healthtech. Technological advancements in health and medicine have boundless capacity, which makes the entire world—not just software developers and medical providers—stakeholders in integrating these practices.
By Jimmy Ahern
Keywords: HealthTech, Innovation