|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] GNU Healthcare and IT
|Hospital software vendor McKesson uses Linux to heal IT budgets Todd
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December 11, 2007 (Computerworld) In 2004, health care software vendor
McKesson Provider Technologies began focusing on ways to cut IT costs
for customers, including hospitals and medical offices.
The cure for IT cost bloat: moving many of McKesson's medical software
applications to Linux, which could then be used on less expensive
commodity hardware instead of expensive mainframes.
Today, San Francisco-based McKesson offers about 50 of its 70 most
popular health care applications -- dealing with everything from
billing to pharmacy records, staffing, admissions, physician order
entry systems and surgery scheduling -- on Linux, reducing costs for
hospitals and medical offices. The move was solidified in February,
when McKesson partnered with Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. to unveil the
Red Hat Enterprise Healthcare Platform, which was customized to meet
the needs of the health care industry.
"Three years ago, we started a push to move the company to more open
standards, including open-source [software] as much as possible,"
said Michael Simpson, senior vice president and general manager of the
clinicals division within McKesson Provider Technologies. Simpson, who
had served as the company's chief technology officer, said the move made
sense because hospital costs could be reduced by replacing mainframes
and their expensive proprietary Unix operating systems with Linux on
basic servers. "Our first goal was reducing capital costs and annual
maintenance costs for customers," he explained.
At first, convincing hospital executives to go with McKesson's Linux-based
applications was difficult because of fears that Linux wouldn't be as
reliable as Unix, which had been in their IT shops for years, Simpson
said. "It took some time for them to understand that open source is safe,
that open source has support," he added.
The deal with Red Hat "really kicked the program into gear," he said,
allowing McKesson to offer its software with Red Hat Enterprise Linux
in a top-to-bottom package for mission-critical hospital IT systems.
Red Hat estimated that health care facilities that have switched have
been able to save as much as 60% on IT costs compared with what they
were spending before.
With the Red Hat/McKesson systems, hospitals and medical offices run
their back-office infrastructure on Red Hat Linux, while their front-end
clients use Microsoft Windows -- at least for now, Simpson said. "Our
hospitals aren't ready yet for Linux on the desktop, but it's coming"
in another three or four years, he said. "If you look at the total costs
of hospitals and the pressure on hospitals to continue to lower their
costs, it's coming."
About 75% of McKesson's customers have embraced the move, Simpson said,
although 10% to 15% were in the "no way" category. McKesson has been
working with them to place the applications running on Linux on mainframes
to ease their transitions.
"For those customers with Linux on mainframes, they've stuck with
mainframes for years," he said. "It's a slow change for them. Some are
now buying commodity hardware, so they are getting comfortable with it
now. The health care industry doesn't change quickly. This was a large
change in a short period of time."
The biggest issue for hospitals has been retraining their IT staffs
to work with Linux, but Red Hat provides fee-based training that is
affordable, Simpson said.
Oracle is still the database of choice for use with McKesson's products,
Simpson said, but as open-source alternatives such as MySQL and Ingres
catch up with features and robustness, they will eventually be brought
into the mix. "Right now we're running the best of both worlds," with
Linux and Oracle, he said.
McKesson, which serves about 2,500 hospitals, mostly in the U.S., will
continue to move its remaining health care applications to Linux, he said.
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