Closed systems slow the pace of innovations. In a closed system, only employees of the company can contribute ideas to the corpus of work available to users.

More IT vendors are beginning to recognize the value of Open systems. They know that only through collaboration and working together can we bring the best, most creative solutions to life. (For more thoughts on the value of Open, read Open is the new black.)

My reaction to the news that another healthcare IT vendor is Open? I HOPE SO. It’s good for all of us.

So what do I mean by Open?

Open companies offer a toolkit that enables programmers (who don’t work for the company) to read and write data into and out of the database. The system’s business rules and security still govern all of those actions. That toolkit enables a wider talent pool to do meaningful work interacting with the electronic health record (EHR) database.

But simply having an Open application programming interface (API) is just a start. There are other incredibly important attributes to consider.

Here’s my checklist to determine if a company is truly Open:

1. Does it offer a programmer’s toolkit?

This resource needs to help read and write information in and out of the EHR, and also include documentation and sample code. Allscripts taught its first class to third parties in 2007.

2. Are training classes available?

Developers need access to instruction about the Open API. Allscripts has taught about a dozen free classes in the past year, with class sizes ranging from 2 to 30 people.

3. Does the API go beyond “read only”?

In a “read only” system, you can look up information and make cool charts and graphs, but you can’t save anything back in to the system. It’s a start, but it’s severely limited.  Allscripts APIs enable apps to read and save every category of medical data, such as orders, results, prescriptions, messages, images and clinical documentation.

4. Do developers have access to a test site?

Third parties should be able to develop and test their applications. Allscripts has 4 of these sites.

5. Is it easy to apply?

Developers should find it easy to apply and gain access to the toolkit. Ideally, it would be free to apply (as it is at Allscripts).

6. Will it help sell the resulting apps?

It’s key to have a business program in place to help the third parties monetize and sell their work. We’re investing in and raising the profiles of our third-party developers through programs, like the Allscripts Open App Challenge.

I hope that more and more healthcare companies will answer “yes” to more and more of these questions over time. Because Open is the key to transforming health care.

At the end of the day, Open should generate a wide range of applications that meet a variety of healthcare needs. I am immeasurably proud that we have about 50 such applications in the Allscripts Application Store.

What do you think makes a company truly Open? Please share in the comments below.

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About the author

Stanley Crane is Chief Innovation Officer for Allscripts. In his more than 30 years of healthcare and consumer-related software experience, he has led the development of award-winning software programs including electronic health record, electronic prescribing, web-based medication sales, online physician education, resource scheduling, financial systems, materials management, medical translation software and voice recognition dictation systems. Previous to his healthcare experience, Stanley was involved in Silicon Valley, where he held positions with many well-known software companies. As the General Manager of Lotus cc:Mail, he created the first remote mail products. He was also the Vice President of Engineering at WordStar International, and Director of Applications at Ashton-Tate, managing their Macintosh products as well as dBase IV. Before that, Stanley was a founder of two Internet startups – MaxMiles, an automated frequent flier mileage aggregator, for whom he built the first versions of the product; and Shopping@Home, a company that was acquired by Allscripts in 1999 to support medication sales.

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