Glen Tullman presents the Chewbacca defense

I have been meaning to write about this for a while.

Glen Tullman and I have pretty different opinions about Health IT. Glen is the CEO of Allscripts, which is the largest proprietary EHR vendor in the country. When ONC called for testimony for the definition of meaningful use, Glen and I sat on the same panel. I testified after him, and I painted a much different picture of the state of Health IT than he did. The summary of his testimony: “The future of EHRs is already here, we are doing meaningful use today”. The summary of my testimony: “There is a market failure in Health IT, no other industry needed to be paid to computerize”. He holds his own software company out as an example of the “right way” where as I generally hold VA VistA, which was developed in a Open Source collaborative fashion as the way forward.

Of course we are both financially biased in this regard. I am an upper-middle income software developer, and Glen got paid $4,072,270 last year. Given the kind of money I make on this Open Source stuff you should probably take everything I say with a grain of salt, and take everything he says with about 45 grains of salt… you know… based on the relative bias involved…

But Glen Tullman got an opportunity to testify again (without me this time), regarding VA VistA. (text, video)

In this testimony, I want to focus on one specific statement, that is particularly galling to me.

While the private sector has been moving forward in light of these incentives, the Government has been investing in their own proprietary systems for many years.  Billions of dollars have been spent to build and implement the VistA/CPRS system within the Veteran Health Administration and the AHLTA system within the Military Health System.

So the VistA/CPRS is “proprietary”, while Glens own software is “private sector”. Wow. The Chewbacca defense at its best.

VistA/CPRS can be run for any purpose, the sourcecode is available for anyone to download without cost, you can redistribute those copies of VistA/CPRS without cost, and you can also redistribute modified versions of the software. That means VistA/CPRS meets the definition of freedom-respecting software, which is the soul of Open Source. Moreover, it was and is developed in a collaborative fashion that is at the heart of every successful Open Source project. If you want to know more, you should read What is VistA Really page that I edit for WorldVistA.

Then, Glen takes credit for accomplishments of Open Source technology:

For example, in Hartford, Connecticut, we have been partners in a project for almost two years that has not only led to widespread health IT adoption but successful implementation of open source health information exchange technologies.

What Glen meant by this is that there are some Allscripts node on an Open Source HIE created by MOSS, Misys Open Source Solutions. In short, Open Source -was- responsible for the exchange, and this had very very little to do with Allscripts software.

He goes on to say:

the fact remains that VistA’s basic platform, which relies on the 25-year old technology called Mumps, cannot support the open, flexible approach needed by those providing care to our nation’s wounded servicemen and women. Rather, the demands of today’s military and veteran healthcare environment necessitate the use of technologies – such as those based on Microsoft’s architecture – that can support an open, shared approach that will not just be desirable, but a fundamental requirement in the near future.

It should be noted that -every- instance of VA VistA inside the VA is capable of communicating with every other instance of VistA inside the VA. The VA was the first and probably still the only large scale organization to achieve this kind of internal data fluidity, which has been happening for more than a decade. Interestingly, the other “large” vendor in Health IT is Epic, a proprietary EHR company that relies heavily on MUMPS. I can think of nothing that Allscripts software can do that either Epic, or VistA is not capable of. Holding out Microsoft technology as a source for peer-to-peer leadership is also pretty ironic, but whatever…

Glen is pretty used to speaking out of both sides of his mouth regarding Open Source. And this testimony is far from the only instance. First there was this article in Forbes, which originally claimed that Allscripts had an Open Source platform, but was then quickly redacted to its current “clearer” status. This was not before it was completely flamed..

most recently, Glen was interviewed in the January 2011 Edition (Vol. 19, No. 1) of HealthData Management Magazine

And Tullman has spent those years (since 1997) being a relentless advocate of the use of open source architecture for health I.T. software and pushed his company to develop tool sets to connect its EHR software with virtually any device or software on the market.

This is was, of course, published in time with the edition of the magazine that would be available during the 2011 HIMSS conference.

This is a very disturbing case of a proprietary EHR CEO being completely intellectually dishonest regarding Open Source. I am on speaking terms with several of the top CEOs of proprietary EHR systems. People like Jonathan Bush of Athenahealth and David Winn (formerly CEO of) eMDs. I have advocated Open Source to these figures on a regular basis. But the remain proprietary companies because they believe that they will make more money as proprietary companies. I believe that Open Source has value that should be more important than profit, and have a friendly disagreement about this with most industry CEO’s. They think my ideas are intriguing and have potential, but see no reason to “bet the farm” on Open Source.

But they also -never- hold themselves out as the “Open” or “Open Source” option. Nor do they malign technologies merely because they are other than those chosen by their own developers. Glen Tullman regularly does both of these. Hell, he did in testimony to Congress.

Look I know that not everyone agrees that Open Source is the way to go, this is not what I am arguing here. I am arguing that we need to have honest and sincere disagreements about licensing and technology issues in Health IT rather than listening to Glen Tullman and his Chewbacca defense.

3 Responses to “Glen Tullman presents the Chewbacca defense”

  1. John Lynn

    Keep calling it the way it is Fred. It’s seriously funny how Glen and Allscripts tries to wave the open source flag in healthcare. They’re about as far away from open source as you can be in healthcare. That’s just seriously messed up.

  2. twitter

    Thanks for this enlightening article. I was unaware that Allscripts was such a big Microsoft ally or how they operated.

    What you have presented is a classic case of Open Washing by Allscripts. They falsely claim the benefits and achievements of free software and tar free software with all the problems of their own non free stack. Glen goes for all the bases by claiming that free software is proprietary. Microsoft will occasionally make such outrageous claims about Open Office and ODF and gnu/linux but they have to do it where they don’t expect people will be listening.

    Please call out more of this when you see it, you can make a difference. Medical software and government purchased software are highly regulated areas that Microsoft would like to use to push their new OS and other software onto the rest of us. In this case, the federal government already has the solution that can be used elsewhere. Microsoft and friends pushing aside VISTA/MUMPS for their own non free stack would be as stupid and wasteful as if they had managed to push aside DARPA at the DOD and buried the internet before it was widely used.

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