Thursday, July 17, 2008

Open Source: Medicine's Killer App

A few months ago, my company was contacted by a small medical clinic in the northwest asking for us to provide a quote for services. I could tell that the physician emailing me wasn't terribly tech savvy so I went through our expanded interview process to allow me to adequately determine what they really need from what they thought they really needed.

What I learned from our assessments astounded and saddened me.
But it also brought home to me the importance of open source in the medical field.

This provider, a small provider by any means, had very simple needs. She needed an electronic medical records (EMR) package that would allow her to store her patient data, lab results, do some cross referencing, go through encounters, etc. Standard fare for most EMR products and definitely specifications that our product, OpenEMR, was built around.

In the end, we quoted this client $22,000. That price included customization, configuration, staging, and deployment within her clinic. It also included a full day of training for her small staff to get everyone comfortable with the new system and work all the kinks that always pop up when users get their hands on the system.

Personally, I though this price was fair and I was a little taken aback when I got a call from the client telling me there was a problem and she needed to discuss the price with me. I was prepared for an argument that they were a small clinic and couldn't afford $22k or some other nonsense.

What she actually told me left me speechless.

She told me that, only a few weeks before we came in, another, well known, EMR vendor had bid on their deployment. The vendor had flown someone in to 'assess their needs' and charged them $1000 per day for a three day assessment. That's right, they charged them for the privilege of going in and getting information they would need to submit a price quote!

But it gets worse.

The vendor, who I'm not going to name but really should, then submitted a one page project outline with a $150,000 price tag attached! Now, for those of you who don't already know this, not every doctor makes a million dollars a year. Most struggle with costs just like every other business and a small office like this client definitely could not afford to pay $150k for an EMR solution. But the problem was they also couldn't afford not to pay $150k if they couldn't find something cheaper.

Thank God we came along.

Now, you might be wondering to yourself why am I telling you what looks like a 'let's pat Anthony and OpenEMR HQ on the back' post. But this is anything but that. I'm telling you this because I believe that this situation drives home how important open source software is to the medical community and why we need, if anything, more of it within that community.

Not too long ago, my client wouldn't have had the option of telling this vendor to take their one page and shove it. Their options would have been between four or five equally pricey proprietary pieces of crap that met most of their needs but not all from a vendor who really didn't care at all if it met any of their needs at all.

Open source allowed her to fearlessly tell this vendor no and walk away without having the nagging feeling that she'd made the wrong decision and knowing that, while she might be able to resist them for a while, she was eventually going to have to pull out her checkbook and write a $150,000 check.

We often hear a lot about disruptive technology. In my opinion, open source is the single most disruptive technology ever invented. For better or worse, it's forcing these greedy vendors to come down to reality. Customers are no longer backed into a corner with no options but to succumb to some grinning salesperson with a sleazy smile. They might not have a lot of options yet. But they do have options. In every industry.

Medicine is, I believe, the last great mountain that open source must conquer. Because it's such a specialized field, there's a lot of interest in it, and a lot of money to be made selling open source products and services within the field, but not nearly as much software as there needs to be.

That's changing though. Smart developers all over the world are walking away from the proprietary world and applying their expertise in areas where they can make a real difference. Open source, as I've said many times before, levels the playing field where a 3 person practice can compete and be as effective as a 20 person one and a $30,000 piece of software can compete with a $150,000 one.

I'm excited to see the changes and I'm excited that OpenEMR HQ is a small part of the huge opportunity to change the world that open source offers.

Now, it's time to get back to work.
I've got a few $150,000 contracts to kill.


LADYwSENSE said...

You are one good businessman. Having the right price for those who need your services. God bless your heart!

LADYwSENSE said...

You are one of the best businessman I've read about! You have a good heart to help those who need your services. God bless your heart!