The Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (Vista), an open source hospital information system used in 160 hospitals, several hundreds of clinics and more than a hundred nursing homes, will become part of the Debian free software distribution. This was announced at the Libre Software Meeting (LSM/RMLL) in Geneva, last week Wednesday, by Andreas Tille, one of the software developers involved.
"We will reach 'apt-get install vista', possibly at the end of this year", Tille said. He hopes that this will help to make Debian the distribution of choice for hospitals.
Tille, a physicist working on free software in his spare time, is one of the developers involved in Debian Med. This project packages software applications for medical care and microbiology research. The Debian Med members locate free and open source software that are used for either of these purposes. They make these applications available through the Debian software repository. "It is not a separate distribution", says Tille. "We merely make such applications ready for use by medical care organisations."
Work on getting the Vista hospital information system into Debian started early this year. This HIS consists of more than 150 software modules on clinical care, financial functions and hospital infrastructure. Getting it into Debian is more a matter of organising the applications rather than making changes to the software itself, Tille says. "The key is to understand the complexity of the system by working closely together with the upstream developers to get a reasonably shaped set of packages."
That is why he thinks that commercial IT service providers will be able to sell support and maintenance contracts to hospitals, based on Debian Med's selection. Doctors and hospital staff are not computer engineers, he says, and will want commercial support for installation, use and updating of the software applications. "I want my doctor to cure me, and not his computer."
Debian Med was first considered in 2001 during a previous RMLL, in Bordeaux. The project started a year later. "We now have gathered a really large pool of medical software applications", says Tille. The category lists some 135 tools on microbiology, 61 on imaging and six on medical practice.
Debian Med is also looking to package other open source hospital information systems, including Care2x, GNUHealth and OpenMRS, says Tille. "We'll consider any free software package, where the upstream developers are interested in close cooperation."
Tille: "Compare it to an app store. We sell neither software nor mobile phones, but in principle it is a store for medical apps."
Andreas Tille's blog post on the Debian in Biology and Medicine blog
Tille's presentation (video)
Abstract on Tille's presentation on the LSM/RMLL website
Debian Med tasks
Debian Pure Blends