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What is an open source EHR?

This blog was originally published in July 2022 and was updated in October 2023

The electronic health record (EHR) that contains a patient’s medical data can be the key to providing the highest quality care for that patient. An EHR can be cloud-based, server-based, or open source. 

Today we’ll be looking specifically at open source EHR solutions—what they are, how they work, and why you might want to choose one for your medical records software. 

What is an open source EHR?

An open source EHR is software with a licensing provision that allows users to use and distribute unmodified (or modified) versions of health records. Like other open source models, the source code of the software is available for users to access and iterate for their own use. This differentiates them from the server-based and cloud-based EHR models, which are usually based on proprietary software that users don’t have back-end access to. 

Open source EHR software is sometimes referred to as free open source software (FOSS), although there is usually a minimal cost associated with it. Through user iteration, it has developed into many different distribution models over the last several years. 

Considerations for using open source EHR software

What are the pros and cons of open source EHR for independent physicians? Let’s take a look at some of the features that set open source software apart from proprietary systems: 

Pro: Transparency, privacy, and security

The primary concern that most healthcare professionals have about open source electronic health record (EHR) software is the issue of privacy and security

Ensuring the security of patient data is a critical piece of choosing the proper EHR solution for an independent practice, especially when sharing information with the patient and other providers.

That being said, even though they are called “open,” open source solutions tend to be even more secure than proprietary software. This is because they are constantly being reviewed by a large community of developers to find and fix security issues quickly. 

Also, the visibility of the source code in open source EHR fosters trust among users and gives you complete control over your patient data. This also allows for easy identification of (and swift response to) security threats.

Pro: Collaboration

While it is relatively easy to acquire an open source electronic health record system, implementing an EHR without the support of a qualified vendor may be difficult and time-consuming. 

Downloading an open source EHR from the web is usually quick and an independent practice can review development ideas and experiences posted by the community using the EHR solution. 

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Pro: Interoperability

It’s important to be able to share your patients’ electronic medical records with multiple healthcare providers. Luckily, open source electronic medical record software has great interoperability with existing systems, which reduces the need for expensive customizations.

It also helps to improve the efficiency and quality of the care you provide, since you can get deeper insight into your patients’ medical histories. 

Pro/Con: Accessibility

FOSS is easy to obtain and download from repositories, with no restrictive licensing terms and no software licensing fees. 

However, there are still some accessibility challenges, including organizing long-term support, funding and ownership for EHR certification, medical informatics, domain-specific issues, functionality-based limitations, and challenges in resource-restricted environments.

Pro/Con: Cost

Even though they are referred to as “free,” open source EHRs must still be purchased, but the price is usually lower than a proprietary EHR. 

Keep in mind that as an independent practice, you will need to pay for hardware and infrastructure, support and maintenance, implementation and training, and any proprietary databases your software chooses to include. 

All of this is without the depth of support and secure backing of a vendor. In addition, the practice could face indemnification and liability risks typically covered by the vendor.

Con: Development and clinical decision support

Open source EHR software enables flexibility within the source code for the independent practice to customize the solution for its own specific needs. Again, there is no vendor support for the modifications, so it is up to the practice to make the changes. 

The user interface on an open source EHR may not be as user friendly as one developed by a qualified vendor. 

In addition, not all open source EHRs offer the extensive depth of clinical decision support options that support the providers’ decision making and enhance the patient’s safety and well-being.

Unleashing the potential of open source EHR with Elation

If you are looking for the top open source EHR, and one that comes with guidance for implementation and use, then look no further than Elation Health’s clinical-first EHR

Elation’s best-in-class EHR solution offers Collaborative Health Records, an API to connect third-party apps, and a hosted database for advanced analytics – everything the independent practice needs to deliver personal and informed care.

Learn how you can ensure a smooth EHR implementation and migration process with our free, downloadable EHR implementation guide or request a demo of Elation EHR to see how it fits into your workflow. 

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FAQs about Open Source EHR

Who can benefit from open source EHR software?

Any healthcare facility can benefit from open source electronic health record software. Open source EHR is more cost-effective, more secure, and offers customization options so you can optimize your workflow across the board. 

What is the difference between proprietary and open source EHR systems?

Unlike proprietary software, open source EHR systems have freely available source code. This means that anyone can edit the code without licensing fees. Open source healthcare software tends to be more secure and provides more flexibility with vendor selection. 

What is an open source EMR?

Open source EMR is an electronic medical record management software. You can use it to record, organize, and manage patients' health information. 

EMR and EHR are often used interchangeably, but EHR usually has a broader scope. Electronic medical record software generally features medical chart tracking, e-Prescriptions, and import/export options.