Open Source and Molar Man

I just attended the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE 8) and saw an eye-popping presentation on an Open Source dental practice management application that was written by a dentist in Inverness, Scotland as a response to ill treatment he’d received at the hands of a proprietary software vendor. Apparently he’d attended a previous conference in Los Angeles on open source in healthcare and was inspired to “roll his own”.

The result: Open Molar – Dental Practice management suite – complete with “Molar Man” logo! (It is always better to win with style.)

This single project illustrates many lessons to be learned on the power of using not only open source tools, but also the methodology and underlying collaborative philosophy.

  1. You don’t have to accept the status quo.
  2. Innovation can spring forth from anywhere, with no warning.
  3. It is possible to come up to speed in a reasonable amount of time with Open Source technology. The project creator was able to translate a familiarity with programming he had acquired in the past (by his own account) into fluency with a variety of open source tools including operating systems, development platforms and version control tools. (See the project page).
  4. The inherent climate of collaboration in the Open Source community is a powerful enabler. In this case, the project was preceded by attendance at a previous conference and discussions that pointed him toward the necessary tools and practices.

The end result was a one-man IT shop. This has interesting implications for potential government/open source community collaborations. Given the current fervor over healthcare IT, such projects could leverage domain expertise between entities such as the the VHA and outside developers, who may not always have the necessary clinical insight in order to provide an effective solution. The end results could be more robust, cost effective systems for government use, as well as the general public. Considering an individual was able to generate a proportional solution for his practice needs, one must ponder what could happen if a government-sized IT budget were allowed to nurture Open Source healthcare software.

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