The potential cost savings and customizability of open source software (OSS) may be particularly attractive for hospitals. However, numerous health-care-specific OSS applications exist, the adoption of OSS health information technology (HIT) applications is not widespread in the United States.
This disconnect between the availability of promising software and low adoption raises the basic question: If OSS HIT is so advantageous, why are more health care organizations not using it?
We interviewed the chief information officer, or equivalent position, at 17 not-for-profit and public hospitals across the United States. Through targeted recruitment, our sample included nine hospitals using OSS HIT and eight hospitals not using OSS HIT. The open-ended interview questions were guided by domains included in the fit-viability theory, an organizational-level innovation adoption framework, and those suggested by a review of the literature. Transcripts were analyzed using an inductive and comparative approach, which involved an open coding for relevant themes.
Interviews described the state of OSS use in hospitals. Specifically, general OSS applications were widely used by IT professionals. In addition, hospitals using OSS HIT still relied heavily on vendor support. In terms of why decisions arose to use OSS HIT, several hospitals using OSS HIT noted the cost advantages. In contrast, hospitals avoiding OSS HIT were clear, OSS as a class did not fit with clinical work and posed too much risk.
Perceptions of OSS HIT ranged from enthusiastic embracement to resigned adoption, to refusal, to abandonment. Some organizations were achieving success with their OSS HIT choices, but they still relied on vendors for significant support. The decision to adopt OSS HIT was not uniform but contingent upon views of the risk posed by the technology, economic factors, and the hospital’s existing capabilities.