It's a role the OSL is used to, said Deborah Bryant, OSL's public sector communities manager. 

Bryant said the OSL already plays a key role in promoting open source worldwide by hosting some of the world's largest open source projects, including the Debian and Gentoo Linux operating systems, the Mozilla Web browser and the Apache Web server. 

"The OHIP is all about interoperability and standards," Bryant said. "The project -- if successful -- will only be successful because the folks who are involved in it are working on creating, if not confirming, standards for health information exchange." 

Early on, OHIP pilots will focus on aggregating major open source code sets, or software, related to health IT, said Bryant, who also serves as the OHIP project director. 

Such code sets serve as health IT's "plumbing" she said, and the OSL's role will be as repository of the source code. In part, Bryant explained, the OSL was chosen because of its role with Mozilla, Apache and Debian as a neutral third party not at all interested in commercializing software. 

"The folks who initiated this project are very interested in having a health information project that's truly open source," she said, "so other people can worry about things up the software stack more." 

The Mayo Clinic's Division of Biomedical Informatics will be one of the first code contributors. The division's work is based on Lexical Grid technologies, which support a distributed network of lexical resources, such as terminologies and ontologies via standards-based tools, storage formats and access and update mechanisms. 

The Mayo Clinic's participation will provide a "medical vocabulary search engine" for the OHIP. 

The strategy is to have a virtual collaborative environment created by fall 2007 for participating members of the health IT development community, Bryant said. CollabNet, another member of the OHIP, will manage the development process over the entire code base life cycle, including contribution, access, revision control, bug management and release distribution. 

The OHIP is part of a larger effort, the Eclipse Open Healthcare Framework (OHF), which was first announced in late 2005. 

Originally a consortium that formed when IBM released the Eclipse Platform into open source, Eclipse grew into an independent body to drive the platform's evolution to benefit the providers of software development offerings and end-users. 

The OHF's goal is to create an open source framework for building interoperable, extensible health-care systems by helping software providers and integrators cost-effectively create customized offerings for health-care delivery entities. 

Finally the OHF hopes to spur development of infrastructure, tools, components and services that will support development of both client and server applications. Client-applications development will be based on Eclipse's rich client platform, while server applications will be based on J2EE.


Code Loupe
Though the open source development model -- which permits a collaborative group of users to study, change and improve software code -- creates an environment in which things get done quickly, there is a potential downside. 

Outside code is sometimes contributed to open source applications, and if that outside code isn't properly tracked, any organization that used the application might be held liable for violating intellectual property rights. 

One OHIP member, Palamida, specializes in ensuring that contributed outside code adheres to internal compliance, risk and use polices. The company will compare code in the OHIP's repository against a comprehensive compliance library, which will give organizations the confidence to add their code to the OHIP's code base. 

Because the OHIP intends to build software that will target health care and deal with patient records, OHIP members must understand the software's constituent parts and where those parts came from, said Mark Tolliver, CEO of Palamida. 

In today's "mixed code" world, Tolliver said,

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor