Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Can good software change the world?

When I founded OpenEMR HQ, our mission was pretty simple: "Help drive down the cost of American health care by providing software solutions to streamline medical practices". That might sound like a lofty goal, but it's something that we don't only say as some high-flying corporate feel-good statement but something that we really believe. I believe good software can make a difference in organizations. It can lower costs, increase efficiency, decrease errors, and generally make a business better.

This fact was brought home to me and one of our sales guys during a recent pitch meeting with a potential new client. As we went over OpenEMR's features and benefits, I saw the light go on in his eyes. By the middle of the pitch he was nodding along as we made our points and, by the end, he had moved his chair up to sit right next to us so he could better understand our pitch.

At the end of the meeting, he came up to me and said something I'll not soon forget: "Anthony," he said, "if I use your software I can reduce my cost by about $30,000 a year. Do you know what that is going to mean for my patients' costs?" For a moment, I admit, I didn't fully understand. But as he continued talking I began to see how our software could not only save him money but help him be a better and more effective doctor. It could provide him with the tools he needs to better diagnose his patients, find trends within his diagnoses, and ferret out information that, had he been using paper based records, would have been impossible to spot.

Yes, it drove down his costs. But it also made him more valuable to his patients.

I've seen this happen time and time again. Not just in medicine but in fields like science, education, engineering, and service businesses. Good software can give a business that extra edge it needs to win and bad software can kill that very same business. It's more than just price. In fact, with open source software, the price means literally nothing. It's more about the agility that the software offers the business or organization. It's about the increased quality in operations.

Fortune 500 organizations have long embraced software as crucial to their bottom line and competitive advantage. Unfortunately, until now, much of that software was, because of its cost, confined to big companies and huge organizations. Open source has changed that. Using our company as an example, a physician can run an EMR package that offers them the exact same features that a $75,000 package from companies like Oracle, WebMD, Lytec, etc would but at a price tags of less than $10,000. It levels the playing field. Now, the battle becomes over the quality of care and not who has the better technology.

I'm seeing the same trends in the non-profit sector too: huge packages that used to be for the 'big boys' are now facing open source competition that brings the same software to the little guy. More efficiency. Less cost. More liquid income to support their overall objectives. That is what open source software offers.

I think we're just beginning to see what open source can do in the service world. Every day, talented developers are writing software that is knocking barriers down. Everyone will be on the same level soon and then, the winner will be determined by who is the best and not who has the best toys. That's not a bad thing at all.

As for my little company, we are pursuing our mission with a vengeance. We're forging community partnerships that will further that mission and we really believe that we can effect our society in a positive and real way.

All because of software.
All because of good software.

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