Open source software runs the world. The browser you’re reading this post on, your desktop at home and even your smartwatch are all sustained by software which is open source.
But what exactly is open source software? The Oxford dictionary defines it as “Software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified”. Good deal, right? We can take this software, and reshape to our needs for free.
Open source software is so ubiquitous that it’s even being used in the medical space. Large hospitals, family practices, and research institutions use open source software to achieve results. Below are a couple examples of this type of software in medicine.
One very robust open source software system is 3D Slicer. 3D Slicer is a platform for the segmentation, registration and 3D visualization of medical imaging data. Like many open source projects, it emerged from a research project between universities; in this case between the Surgical Planning Lab at Harvard and the CSAIL at MIT.
3D Slicer is an invaluable tool to assist in shifting 2D medical images (CAT scans, MRI’s, etc…) into the 3 dimensional realm. These 3D pictures provide better representations of internal structures in the body. By viewing medical images in 3D, doctors and researchers are better able to gauge the spatial relationships between the different structures in the body. This enhanced viewpoint allows doctors to provide better care and outcomes for their patients.
The logistics of running a medical practice are intimidating. Besides seeing patients, doctors have to contend with dozens of pages of electronic medical records before the day is done. Fortunately, there exists software out there which streamlines billing, appointments, prescriptions and the array of other administrative tasks which keep a medical office running.
However this software is proprietary, relatively restrictive, and expensive.
Well, here comes OpenEMR! OpenEMR is an open source electronic health records and medical practice management solution. Despite being free, it doesn’t skimp on any features as it provides all of the components of a proprietary solution and is HIPAA compliant. Check out reviews of this software here.
Options like OpenEMR are particularly in demand from non-profit medical centers where the cost of proprietary software can prove burdensome to slim budgets.
The future of Open Source
The most admirable component of open source software is the community which has materialized around it. 3D Slicer and OpenEMR are sustained by communities of developers. These developers seek to iterate upon the software by fixing bugs, improving user interfaces and infusing programs with new features.
Even big tech companies like Microsoft understand the importance of open source software. Microsoft actively funds these projects in the hopes that they will drive innovation or solve tough problems.
With thriving communities and approval from big tech, the future of open source software is bright and its possibilities seem limitless.