Open Health Software Continues Exponential Growth, Breaks 1,500 Mark

Open source software in the healthcare field continues its exponential growth according to a report just released by Black Duck Software. According to Black Duck, a total of 294 new healthcare-related open source projects emerged in 2010, a 31% increase over the previous year. Projects for 3-D medical imaging, data management and clinical trials dominated new projects in the Black Duck® KnowledgeBase™, which counts more than 1,500 OSS projects with a health care focus. Black Duck estimates that development costs for open health projects have grown to approximately $9.3 billion, representing 51,000 staff years to replicate, up from the 2009 estimate of $8 billion and 45,000 staff years.

Black Duck analyzed the following trends for 2010:

  • 3-D medical imaging solutions. These were exemplified by projects such as Ginkgo CADx, an open source DICOM CADx environment.
  • Clinical trials projects. One example given by Black Duck is OpenTrials, a multilingual clinical trials registration platform designed for any country, region or research institution seeking to operate an online clinical trials registry.
  • Data management applications. also had a strong showing in 2010, including projects like Hope Rx, a web-based pharmacy management system for relief and humanitarian mission organizations.
  • Remote access applications. These are exemplified by CollaboRhythm, which provides patients remote access to their personally-controlled health record while also supporting collaboration between patient and caregiver.

Dr. Robert Kolodner, Chief Health Informatics Officer for Open Health Tools, commented on the analysis, pointing out that "open source software offers tremendous opportunities for the health care industry to improve services while also controlling costs and for those creating open source or proprietary solutions to be more responsive by enabling a more rapid development cycle.” As a result of this, Kolodner said, “a rapidly growing number of software solutions for health care are [being] released as open source or incorporate open source components.” This, Kolodner points out, “is an important trend reflected in Black Duck’s analysis.” Kolodner adds that “open source also drives innovation and supports interoperability between health IT solutions.” This point can be seen in Black Duck’s analysis which shows that the dominant open source projects for 2010 were “solutions focusing on 3-D medical imaging, data management, clinical trials and remote access.”

Open Source in Health Care on the Rise for Nearly a Decade

Black Duck’s analysis also reveals that since 2002, new health care open source software projects have shown strong growth, with steady increases in most years.

Black Duck Health Care Open Source Projects Chart

Figure 1-New Open Source Software Projects Since 2002

“Black Duck’s analysis shows the health care industry’s use of open source rising steadily for nearly a decade, and all indicators point to even greater usage in the future as the industry and software developers advance efforts for electronic health records and data management solutions,” said Tim Yeaton, Black Duck Software’s president and CEO. “Open source software is also fueling major innovations in health care technology and clinical trials solutions – important developments that will have a significant impact on the health of people around the world.”

The Secret Sauce

Open Health News talked to Peter Vescuso, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for Black Duck, to find out the sources of data for this survey and the methodology that Black Duck uses for its analysis. Vescuso provided a good background to the story, pointing out that the first step in the development of any software application is to determine where the application fits in the taxonomy of existing projects and to look for reusable code in order to avoid duplicative effort. Ordinarily this would require developers to keep one eye on their own projects and the other scanning everyone else's similar projects, but Black Duck Software has created a couple of tools to obviate much of the burden.

Black Duck is well-known in the open-source world for its code-search solution. According to Vescuso, Black Duck continuously searches the internet for open, downloadable code. The result of this is “the industry’s most comprehensive database of open source software and associated license and other information.” They call this the Black Duck KnowledgeBase. Vescuso said that the number of active projects that Black Duck tracks is greater than half a million—and the projects include billions of lines of code—and that they try “to maintain a living connection to each project.” To facilitate that connection, he says there is a team of Black Duck employees, called “spiders”, whose job it is to ensure that the KnowledgeBase stays up to date.

But the most important feature of the KnowledgeBase, what makes Black Duck's claim of a living connection to each project, according to Vescuso, is its rich metadata. Black Duck tags each project with a description, information on the community that produced and maintains it, a full release history, and a variety of other information that helps users to evaluate the quality and usefulness of the code. In addition, the KnowledgeBase contains detailed data on over 2,000 licenses, allowing users to make quick license compatibility determinations.

Black Duck has over a thousand customers, ranging in size from individuals and startup companies to major corporations such as Intel and SAP. Vescuso told Open Health News that Black Duck understands that collaboration is the new standard in application development. Black Duck works across all industries, but Vescuso made special mention of health IT. He affirmed that the healthcare industry needs innovation; it needs to keep pace with the demand of the community it serves. In order to do this, developers need solutions like those offered by Black Duck, saving them both time and money and allowing them to focus on the true necessities.

Discussing the specific findings in health IT, Vescuso mentioned that he was most excited about a project called CollaboRhythm, an MIT-created program that facilitates collaboration, offering patients ownership of their data. CollaboRhythm's project page outlines “everything they see in the doctor’s office is available at home, or when they visit another doctor, or change jobs, or move across the world.”

Vescuso said that since the KnowledgeBase was designed and is maintained for the open-source world, Black Duck maintains and supports a couple of open-source communities. One is, a free search engine for open-source code, acquired in 2008 and incorporated into the KnowledgeBase. At that time, had indexed some 766 million lines of code in 32 programming languages. After Black Duck incorporated the additional projects tracked by its KnowledgeBase into the Koders index, the number of indexed lines had increased by 210%.

The second community is, a tool for evaluating projects quality and usefulness. While Koders is an index, Ohloh is something of a social network; according to its website, it is a forum for public review of open-source projects, creating historical reports from directory data to track changes in the open-source world.