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Open-source software may unify the medical-records realm

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Open-source medical software has been around for over 30 years. Unless you are in healthcare IT, however, chances are you’ve never even heard of it. But that’s poised to change.

With the passage of ARRA (the American Recovery And Reinvestment Act of 2009, also called the federal stimulus package), some $19 billion dollars have been earmarked for Medicare and Medicaid technology incentives over the next five years. This program is known as HITECH (PDF), short for Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health.

The program will use carrots, in the form of several million dollars per hospital and up to $44,000 for individual doctors, and sticks, in the form of Medicare reimbursement cuts, to get hospitals and doctors to move to EHRs (electronic health records), also called EMRs (electronic medical records).

This may be the start of a sea change in medical IT. In the past, the field has been a patchwork of feudal states: Dozens of companies produced an endless parade of programs using incompatible data formats that covered different parts of the healthcare world. Now, if EHRs become widespread, hospitals and other medical providers will be finally able to tap into each other’s work.

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