Friday, February 3, 2012

Inspiring Story Raises Questions About Health IT Costs

Evelyn Castle and Adam Thompson, two philanthropists in Nigeria, have been toiling to introduce new technology to needy hospitals in the African nation. The facilities, some of which see up to 50 births a day, are not equipped to handle the amount of data collection and storage that is necessary for an operation of their size. Previous efforts to introduce modern technology to these hospitals failed in the past, because the workers are not familiar enough with the tech to make use of it.
 “The people that are using our system are not exactly the most educated of people; a lot of people have never used a computer before. We have to start them with, how do you use a mouse,” Castle says. “Introducing a Microsoft or a Kaiser platform is not going to work for them. The software we use is a lot more simplistic and a lot more user friendly.” And for an NGO (non-government organization) like eHealth Nigeria, it doesn’t hurt that OpenMRS is free.
OpenMRS used in Kaduna, Nigeria
OpenMRS is an open source health records system, designed to be used by health facilities in underdeveloped countries. The software is extremely simplistic, easy to pick up, and completely free. Wired Magazine, who interviewed the innovative pair, has more information about their efforts, but we are more interested in the ramifications of this type of IT breakthrough.

Like the generic pharmaceuticals of the IT world, open source software provides IT solutions for problems that traditionally have large price tags. In addition to being a costless platform, open source software is also flexible and customizable; facilities can have the code altered to meet their specific needs.

OpenMRS has an impressive list of features, for free software, though it lacks some of the bells and whistles that modern hospitals would be used to. And, while it may be the perfect solution for around a hundred facilities, it likely can’t hold up on the scale of larger hospitals. Most interestingly, however, is the fact that the recent HHS competitions to revitalize Health IT development may be headed in the open source direction.

If the overall goal of re-inventing health technology is to save money and improve efficiency, doesn’t this type of software seem like a good option?

Does your facility use any free or open source software? We’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below to tell us about your experiences.


Pam Argeris is a thought leader in the Healthcare Industry and possesses extensive, hands-on experience with CMS compliance, and multiple regulatory bodies such as NCQA, JACHO, and DOI. In her role at Merrill Corp., Pam focuses on developing solutions for compliance and quality assurance, delivered in a cost effective manner to improve beneficiary and prospect communications. You can contact Pam at

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