Growing Community in Open Health IT

Roberts-Hoffman is pleased to sponsor the work of the Neuron Health project in open source for health IT.  The community at Neuron is working to overcome the challenges faced by the open health IT community.  Here’ a great example of the community philosophy that we think will help foster growth, engagement, and learning in health IT.

Why are we here?

Healthcare is about people.  Yet, no two of us require the exact same prescription for wellness.  Every person on the planet is wonderfully unique having different needs and goals for their personal well being.  Consequently, we must be able to make technology that works on behalf of patients and care providers, as opposed to making patients and providers conform to the requirements of a monolithic care system.  A one-size-fits-all approach to health information management simply will not work.  While quality, security, and standards are a necessary foundation, the human interaction with that foundation should be as varied as the people that use it.


The Neuron Health project was formed to support a community that creates the technologies that truly enable meaningful care of people’s health.

What do we aim to accomplish?

The Neuron Health project has three core objectives:

  1. We want to demonstrate that open source projects will deliver optimal care technologies.
  2. We aim to make these technologies readily accessible to patients and providers.
  3. We will work to foster a growing community of open source developers, caregivers, and community participants.


How will we do it?

Open community will be the seedbed of collaborative development between enthusiastic professionals from clinical, technical, and administrative circles.  Open source ecosystems have proven that quality, security, and governance can be achieved while still supporting creativity and diversity.  By embracing open source ideals – and by integrating them with the critical needs of the healthcare markets – quality solutions can be custom designed to meet the needs of patient and provider in any care setting.

A strong open source presence in the healthcare environment in the US is only now emerging.  The Neuron project is committed to helping this community thrive.  We strive to fulfill our core objectives in the following ways.



From time to time, one may encounter an open source project where there seems to be little interest in answering common questions or providing guidance for new participants.  Responsiveness is essential to the health and growth of our community.  To this end, you will find direct email addresses for the community organizers posted on the site. Use them, we want to hear from you.  Also, you will find the forums for our projects are freely accessible on the web, and our core team is committed to keeping them fresh.


On-boarding Resources

One reason that open source has moved slowly into healthcare is the complexity of this domain.  Developers must be familiar with sophisticated standards and regulations, as well as the vast array of health data sources and the systems that manage that data.  These knowledge factors, coupled with the risks of patient safety, have raised the bar for competent health IT professionals who are paid to do their job – let alone volunteers in open communities.

The Neuron team has recognized this condition of complexity in health data and systems as a barrier to the adoption of open source solutions and the growth of open communities.  We – the community as a whole – have only begun the process of fixing this problem.  To help people become familiar with the Neuron project and its underlying platform, Tolven, we are continuing to assemble resources that are freely available on the web.  We publish a growing list of guides for Neuron on our sourceforge site.  In addition, we have compiled some of the best resources for the Tolven platform at our sponsor site,


Clear Communication about Free and Non-free

Despite the explosive increase in public awareness about open source software, we still find ourselves working to overcome expectations that open source means free.  Many people have become disenchanted with open communities when they discover that what they expected to be free components or services are not free.  As we all know, and as the economist Milton Friedman said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Deep down, people can understand this reality.  The problem arises when projects or communities are unclear about which services or components are free, and which are not.  The Neuron community makes every effort to be clear about freely available resources – anything published to the websites in the community is free. That means the source code, the pre-built code, the virtual machines, the install guides and documentation, and access to the forums and email.

Our time, on the other hand, is not free (though many of us freely invest a great deal of time in supporting the project).  People and organizations contribute time and money to make this community possible.  In order to continue to support Neuron, these people must derive revenues from the community.  This revenue comes primarily in the form of fees for services, such as support, training, and development, and from licensing.


Community Evangelism

If people don’t know about the project, how will they participate?  Some open source projects rely entirely on word-of-mouth and viral spread of information to promote their project.  This might work very well for some projects, but in the complex, high-risk world of healthcare, we need a better approach to engaging and informing our markets.  We must create resources that will educate customers, users, and developers.  Further, we need to build networks of complementary projects and services that will coalesce into optimal solutions.  Last, but not least, we could learn a lesson from traditional marketing efforts and use the power of content and branding to increase the public’s accurate awareness about open source.  Inasmuch as selling means “communicating the right value to the right customer”, we must sell open community health IT.