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6 traits of a truly Open healthcare IT company

Closed systems slow the pace of innovations. In a closed system, only employees of the company can contribute ideas to the corpus of work available to users.

More IT vendors are beginning to recognize the value of Open systems. They know that only through collaboration and working together can we bring the best, most creative solutions to life. (For more thoughts on the value of Open, read Open is the new black.)

My reaction to the news that another healthcare IT vendor is OpenI HOPE SO. It’s good for all of us.

So what do I mean by Open?

Open companies offer a toolkit that enables programmers (who don’t work for the company) to read and write data into and out of the database. The system’s business rules and security still govern all of those actions. That toolkit enables a wider talent pool to do meaningful work interacting with the electronic health record (EHR) database.

But simply having an Open application programming interface (API) is just a start. There are other incredibly important attributes to consider.

Here’s my checklist to determine if a company is truly Open:

1. Does it offer a programmer’s toolkit?

This resource needs to help read and write information in and out of the EHR, and also include documentation and sample code. Allscripts taught its first class to third parties in 2007.

2. Are training classes available?

Developers need access to instruction about the Open API. Allscripts has taught about a dozen free classes in the past year, with class sizes ranging from 2 to 30 people.

3. Does the API go beyond “read only”?

In a “read only” system, you can look up information and make cool charts and graphs, but you can’t save anything back in to the system. It’s a start, but it’s severely limited.  Allscripts APIs enable apps to read and save every category of medical data, such as orders, results, prescriptions, messages, images and clinical documentation.

4. Do developers have access to a test site?

Third parties should be able to develop and test their applications. Allscripts has 4 of these sites.

5. Is it easy to apply?

Developers should find it easy to apply and gain access to the toolkit. Ideally, it would be free to apply (as it is at Allscripts).

6. Will it help sell the resulting apps?

It’s key to have a business program in place to help the third parties monetize and sell their work. We’re investing in and raising the profiles of our third-party developers through programs, like the Allscripts Open App Challenge.

I hope that more and more healthcare companies will answer “yes” to more and more of these questions over time. Because Open is the key to transforming health care.

At the end of the day, Open should generate a wide range of applications that meet a variety of healthcare needs. I am immeasurably proud that we have about 50 such applications in the Allscripts Application Store.

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