Today's Debate: How do we reach interoperability?

Mandate open source as a starting point and I think we can solve this problem. Lay all your software cards on the table. Open source is a market mechanism, not a governmental process. All government need do is insist on it.

Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, chair of the science and technology subcommitteeAt a House hearing this week there was a lot of talk about medical interoperability. (Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, left. chaired the hearing.)

The problem of moving medical data between different medical record systems was called a "daunting challenge" by HCA president Noel Williams, who noted there are already over 2,000 standards in health care and 400 organizations dealing with standards development.

Congress' answer to the problem is HR 2406, a bill that would direct the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) to ride herd on the process. But the private companies at the hearing said NIST's efforts might be counterproductive, especially since the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is now getting in on the act.

For those who seek private answers to these questions, the hearing must have been more than uncomfortable. That train seems to have left the station. The Republicans were mainly arguing about which agency should have jurisdiction over government standards in health care technology, not whether government should be involved.

Even President Bush has set 2014 as a target date for making most health records electronic. It seems the one thing the parties agree on.

I happen to support open source as a method for arriving at standards. If the code is open you can link to it, no matter what is in it. Any proprietary solution would be just that, proprietary. No matter how good it was, it would never become universal, as the present battle over office file standards proves

Mandate open source as a starting point and I think we can solve this problem. Lay all your software cards on the table. Open source is a market mechanism, not a governmental process. All government need do is insist on it.

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