Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Announcing the OpenEMR Certified Consultant Program

When I first launched OpenEMR HQ, I thought I'd be joining a rich community of committed entrepreneurs who were all concerned about the state of health care and thought their products could help improve it. It certainly was one of the main reasons I got into the industry and continues to be one of the driving reasons I work so hard to make sure I get the word out about OpenEMR, OpenMRS, and VistA. I genuinely believe that these three solid software packages can make a difference in the quality of care doctors provide and I'm 100% committed to working to make sure they get into the hands of as many people as we can possibly reach.

But as time went by, we began getting calls from potential customers who had a hint of desperation in their voices. We heard stories about how companies had taken thousands of dollars in consulting fees and never delivered a working implementation and how some doctors couldn't even get some of these companies to return their calls so they could actually give them money and do business with them! I quickly learned that the electronic medical records industry is largely one where the customer is treated poorly, not served well, and definitely not 'always right' as the old saying goes.

So I decided to change that.

In early September, I met with 15 doctors from around the Midwest to discuss what their 'issues' were with EMR providers. One after another told stories similar to the ones I'd heard from other customers and all of them expressed how valuable it would be to have some sort of quality guarantee that would allow them to at least somewhat quantify the level of commitment a given consultant had to the product they were using (in our case, OpenEMR).

That meeting led to more discussions and the skeleton of a certification program slowly began to emerge. We kept it under wraps for months until we got it right and covered all of the issues we'd heard were so pressing to doctors looking at buying EMR: technical acuity, product knowledge, support skills, and training were all included in our certification criteria.

Today, marks the culmination of the last 4 months of hard work.

Today, we're happy to announce the formal launch of the OpenEMR Certified Consultant and the OpenEMR Gold Certification Program. These two certifications, created for individual consultants and consulting companies respectively, will provide doctors with a way to know that the consultant or company they've chosen for their OpenEMR needs has formally demonstrated their commitment and knowledge of the OpenEMR platform and have taken time to invest in their chosen field through education, service, and time.

Additionally, I'm going to take this opportunity to announce that, as of January 15th, 2009, OpenEMR HQ will only contract with Certified Consultants or Certified Gold Partners to provide installation or support services to our customers. This affords us the same benefit it affords our customers: a measured guarantee of proficiency and knowledge. We'll continue to do business with our currently contracted partners and will support them in achieving their certifications as we move forward but we will slowly phase out non-certified contractors starting on the 15th.

Personally, I believe that the new certification programs will lead to very good things for the OpenEMR community. Our goal is to place OpenEMR squarely on the table alongside other commercial, proprietary EMR systems and this program will be yet another step in that direction. Everyone benefits: customers, contractors, and the community. Most importantly, OpenEMR moves forward.

Thank you to all of you who worked so hard with me over the last few months to create this certification program. OpenEMR has a bright future and it's even brighter because of your work.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My letter to Philips

I don't usually beat a dead horse but this situation between Philips and myself has me angry. While I understand that some problems are beyond their control, I strongly feel the situation with my webcam problem was poorly handled and totally botched. So, I'm going to beat a dead horse and I'm contacting corporate over the issue. Here's a copy of the email I just sent them. Yes, it will be followed up by a call. The camera was only $80 but I still feel that as a customer, I deserve better. What are your opinions?

"Dear Philips,

I'm writing to express both my frustration and my disappointment with Philips Corp.

On 12/17 I purchased a Philips SPC-1300NC webcam from my local Walmart. I went through the installation process on my desktop computer and everything worked fine. Once I rebooted my PC and plugged the cam in, things went wrong. Windows detected the device (audio, video, etc) but then displayed an error message saying something went wrong and the device couldn't be used. I uninstalled and reinstalled the driver several times with the exact same results.

I then went to another PC (a laptop) and attempted to install the camera. While the camera worked, it continually turned on and off and so I decided to call customer support.

The three people I spoke to in three different calls were absolutely no help at all. They told me to reinstall the software, reinstall the driver, uninstall my anti-virus, all of which I did to absolutely no avail. Finally, I was told 'you have a bad camera' and headed back to Walmart to exchange it.

The next TWO SPC-1300NC's did the exact same thing so I was convinced it was NOT a hardware problem - and it wasn't.

The problem (on the laptop with the camera turning on and off) was caused by the automatic camera management feature of the software. When I disabled it, the camera worked fine. Problem solved. An annoyance I could live with.

The desktop installation, however, did not go any more smoothly than before and, in utter frustration, I once again called customer support and spoke to Nancy.

All Nancy did was walk me through doing the EXACT same thing I'd done 5-9 times before: removing and reinstalling the driver. When it didn't work. she told me 'well, I don't know what else to do. All we do here is walk you through installing it once and that's it. Call Microsoft".

I am so angry about this lack of any kind of real tech support that I will not buy another Philips product for a long while. I am disappointed that my value as a customer is so little that nobody actually cares to solve my problem. Sure, I didn't buy a $2500 television from the company but I am a paying customer and I deserve better than 'sorry, call Microsoft'.

This is Philips hardware, not Microsoft's. It's Philips problem and Philips should fix it.

I can't say enough how disappointed I am in this company.

Sincerely,
Anthony Papillion

A gripe about Philips


I just had the most horrible tech support call with Philips. Here's my story

Mobile post sent by CajunTechie using Utterlireply-count Replies.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Seesmic launches new site and kicks total ass!

There are two reasons why the popular video discussion site Seesmic.com has been such a smashing success. First, it's a great concept that's attracted a fantastic group of people to it. Second, and perhaps as if not more important, is the leadership shown by its CEO Loic LeMeur and his willingness to change things in response to his members requests.

Loic listens.
And that's something pretty rare in startups these days.

Earlier today, in response to many well chronicled problems with the site, LeMeur announced a long awaited update to Seesmic that will all but solve the issues users had been having. Because the original site was designed entirely in Flash, things were very clunky and the service was getting harder and harder to use. Videos were getting lost, the public timeline was often inaccessible, the site would cause your browser to crash, and there were all sorts of other nasties that were threatening to take Seesmic down the road of so many other failed startups.

But one thing was different: LeMeur and his team were eating their own dog food. A huge portion of Seesmic staff, including LeMeur, actively participated on Seesmic and, as such, were acutely aware of the platforms limitations and issues.

Today's release is a major step in bringing Seesmic into a new age. The slow, depressingly black site has been retooled as a spiffy, bright, site with nearly all of the Flash components gone. The site is super responsive, thanks to an AJAX backed platform, and the team took this time to introduce a host of new features to the service for which users had been begging for for months.

For the full details on the new Seesmic release, visit Loic's blog or his video post from last night. All-in-all, this release is fantastic and, while there are admittedly a few bugs, it's incredibly better than the old site and, according to several followup post by LeMeur, the team is not finished yet.

Good job Seesmic. You're an example of the way a startup should be run: lean, responsive, and involved. You guys are definitely a top-shelf service.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cut through the endless discussion with Zapproved!

Anyone who's ever submitted a proposal knows the endless discussion that can crop up around even the most basic decisions. Things that should take minutes end up in hours or days long discussion and debate and that can often ground even the most important projects to a screeching halt. It's annoying, it's anti-productive, and, unfortunately, it happens all the time.

Enter Zapproved, a new startup launched today who's goal is to bring your proposal to a final yes/no vote. Using Zapproved, you create a proposal, submit it to your approvers, and they get a chance to vote it up or down. No discussion. No debate. Just action.

Personally, I love this idea and I rushed over to sign up for an account. I can already see a thousand ways using this strategy can save both time and money. Sure, sometimes you need to discuss things in depth, but other times people tend to use discussion as a stalling tactic. Using Zapproved will forces these stragglers to either make a decision or get right to the point about why they've failed to do so.

In our increasingly horrible economy and what seems to be turning out to be an era that will have the higest failure rates since the dot com bust, a new startup rises to one of the biggest challenges of its life.

And this one just might survive.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Why Microsoft shouldn't (and won't) launch a Zune Phone

For at least the fifth time since the original device was launched in mid-2006, rumors are again circulating that Microsoft is considering producing a phone based off of its hardly enthusiastically received Zune Media Player.

Zune was originally launched as a competitor to the strong Apple iPod brand but it seems that, with the exception of software updates, Microsoft has all but lost interest in the device. While I'm sure many people would love to see Microsoft produce a "dream phone" based on the Zune device, I think there's two major reasons why it'll never happen:

1. Microsoft can't win. The Zune, even 2 years after it's release, isn't a very strong device. Sure, it's managed to carve out a small portion of the market Apple dominates but, when people think MP3 player, they don't think Zune. Microsoft would have to start from the ground up with device redesign and advertising and it still probably couldn't pull the Zune brand out of the ditch. Short of buying Apple, this is not a market that Microsoft can compete and win in. With a few exceptions, Microsoft is not a hardware company. And, even when they have produced hardware, it's never been anything spectacular. Yes, I'm including the XBOX and XBOX 360 in that mix.

2. Microsoft tries too hard for integration. To Microsoft, everything revolves around the Windows death star. In order for ZunePhone to succeed, Microsoft would have to seriously support the device on platforms other than Windows (yes, I mean Mac) and that would place them far to far out from home and into hostile territory, again taking it further away from platform integration.

Personally, I think Microsoft regrets Zune. It was released at a time when the media player market was on fire and Microsoft wanted to cash in on it. You can tell from Zunes' first design model that there was no passion behind it. The device had no soul. Believe me, I bought one and tried to like it. But iPod is just a better made, sexier device and has a smarter, sexier store (they even sell movies!)

Two years later, iPod is still enjoying higher and higher adoption rates while Zune is still struggling for relevance in the marketplace. It's become an 'also-ran' device that never really ran to begin with. It simply doesn't make sense to expand the brand into yet another market it'll fail in.

For the reasons above, I don't think we'll see the ZunePhone anytime soon - or anytime at all for that matter. Instead, I expect to see an announcement fairly soon that Microsoft is pulling out of the media player business entirely and refocusing on their 'core'.

In today's economy, even the Beast of Redmond can't afford to waste money on a dying platform.

Soon, the final chapter will be written on the sad life of the little media player that tried but failed. And we, the buying public, will write its death certificate.

Monday, December 8, 2008

To follow or not to follow? Challenging Twitters social rules

There's an interesting discussion going on at Twitter about the ritual of following your followers. In an ecosystem that seems obsessed with building the highest connection count, it might seem that the obvious answer would be 'of course you should follow those who follow you' and it might even seem rude to some not to do so. But I suggest doing the exact opposite if you really want to make connections and contribute to the overall quality of Twitter.

The purpose of Twitter is to connect and engage. Making random connections with everyone who follows you only fulfills half of that purpose. To finish the balance, we have to have some common ground on which we can build a relationship and deepen the connection. Otherwise, the entire connection boils down to two people talking at each other instead of with each other and no useful interaction takes place.

For example, last week, I was followed by a structural engineer. While I was flattered that someone of his caliber would find my tweets interesting enough to want to consume on a regular basis, I chose not to follow him back. Why? Because he and I had nothing in common.

When I checked out his tweet stream, I saw that most of his tweets were about, you guessed it, engineering; particularly structural engineering, which I know nothing about. Now, I could have followed this gentleman and probably even discussed a few things with him. But the majority of what he was interested in held no interests for me whatsoever. More importantly, I did not have the knowledge of his field that would have allowed me to intelligently discourse with him or even understand a lot of his tweets.

Following this tweeter would have served only one purpose: to give him an ego boost by having another follower because I wouldn't have been following him based on my interest in him but rather some weird sense of duty. It would have been a totally useless and, for both of us I fear, largely uninteresting connection.

The bottom line is this: if you want quantity, follow everyone who follows you and you'll soon find a large and eventful time line. But if you want quality - the kind where you can really engage with the people you follow - be selective in who you follow back. Your stats will grow slower than the 'frenzied followers' out there, but your connections will be of higher quality.

So what about you? Do you automatically follow everyone who follows you? Do you think it's rude if someone you follow doesn't follow you back? Would you even stop following someone who didn't follow you in a reasonable time? Sound off and let me know!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Social Media: why VC's and Angels should jump even harder!

Those of us who regularly haunt services like Next2Friends, Twitter, and a few other social sites out there already know how much fun they are and the power of the connections you can make on them. Every day, everything from important, world changing ideas to what we're making for dinner (complete with live demonstrations) are discussed on these sites and friends that may very well last a lifetime are discovered. There are some absolutely fantastic social media sites out there but, unfortunately, with the recession sitting firmly in place, venture and angel money for such services seem to be quickly drying up and many of these sites could very well face shutting down if they can't pay the bills.

I'd like to put forward that investing in social media even in a recession is one of the best investments a firm can make and smart firms will be investing more into social media as times get tougher instead of less.

As our financial belts tighten, we have a natural desire to connect strongly with other. We're not comfortable suffering in silence and we long to reach out to others for validation, confirmation that we're not alone, and just plain old companionship. I think that's one of the reasons movie going skyrocketed during the great depression. People don't want to be alone when they are in crisis.

Unfortunately, the 1920's and 1930's had a much smaller population who's friends and acquaintances were much less geographically spread out than we do today. Today, it's not uncommon for an ordinary person to have friends in five or six foreign countries and maintain regular contact with them all. I know I've personally stayed up extra late just to chat with friends in remote areas of the world and I'll bet you have to. It's the nature of wanting a human connection.

So, as the worldwide financial crisis tightens, people are going to be looking for ways to, not only keep in touch with their friends, but deepen those relationships and create new ones. Travel will become more and more costly so the average person won't be able to simply jump on a plane and fly from Kansas City to Mumbai just to attend a party or spend a week with a new friend. This, I believe is where social media; particularly services like Qik and Next2Friends are going to come in.

Last Thursday, a friend in Pakistan invited me to his wedding. I was very sad that I couldn't attend because this is someone who I consider a good friend. We began discussing ways I could get a video tape and then we hit upon the idea of using a video broadcasting service like Next2Friends to stream it live over the internet to remote friends and family. In the end, I, and nearly 100 of his other friends and family, were able to attend his wedding via his live Qik stream (which was archived so others can enjoy it too).

My point is that there is a huge untapped market in social media. As people are forced to make decisions between travel or rent, they're not going to simply abandon their friends and pay the rent. They're going to look for new ways to interact. Social media, in particular live broadcasting and interactive chat, is going to quickly become the de facto solution chosen by an intimacy hungry world. I could easily see services like Next2Friends, Qik, and even Seesmic (which isn't live) become the next internet darlings, pulling in insane amounts of VC money and posting sky high valuations.

VC's and Angel's out there: now is the time to get in the game and really pour some money into these services. Entrepreneurs, now is the time to think big and create something huge. Don't limit your thinking. Create something that connects people or makes their already existing connections more real.

In the end, the sky will be the limit.
And, really, wouldn't we all like to learn to fly?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Making a living with open source software



There's no doubt that the open source universe is huge. Just about anyone wanting to make a living developing, supporting, or consulting, on open source software can easily do so and will find an enormous amount of peer support as they navigate the waters of FOSS.

In the video above, Indian Linux/Open Source guru Raj Mathur discusses his involvement in open source and how open and large the market is for newcomers. It's a brief, impromptu video shot at Raj's home office in New Delhi.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Create phone applications the easy way with Twilio

Those of you who read this blog regularly know how easily excited about new technology I tend to become. But I have to admit that it's been a very long time since anything knocked me out and filled my eyes with stars as much as, new kid on the Web 2.0 block, Twilio has.

Twilio is a new service that offers a simple, REST based API on which developers can create telephony applications. Using Twilio, anyone with a basic understanding of REST and their particular language of choice can easy create an application that serves info to callers, records and responds to things the callers do, and just about anything else your techy mind can dream up.

Using Twilio is dead simple too. In less than a day, I learned the API and created a fully functioning application for OpenEMR that I'm now selling to customers. In less than a week, I've just about completely developed a new service around Twilio that should go live by Friday. Give Twilio a month and who knows what one can develop?

One of the other attractive features of Twilio is its price: free to learn and as little as $0.03 per call and $5.00 a month if you want an inbound number. Really, they've taken all of the hard work out of building telephony applications.

Lastly, let me revisit how easy it is to actually use Twilio. Once you've signed up for a free account and received your account id and authorization token, it only takes a few lines of code and a simple XML file to actually make a call.

Here's an example in PHP:

require("twiliorest.php");

$ApiVersion = "2008-08-01";
$AccountSid = "YOUR_ACCOUNT_SID";
$AuthToken = "YOUR_AUTHORIZATION_TOKEN";

$CallerID = 'A_VALIDATED_NUMBER';

/* Instantiate a new Twilio Rest Client */
$client = new TwilioRestClient($AccountSid, $AuthToken);

$response = $client->request("/$ApiVersion/Accounts/
$AccountSid/Calls", "POST", array("Caller" =>
$CallerID, "Called" => "NUMBER_TO_CALL",
"Url" => "http://yourserver.com/play2caller.xml"));
?>

That's all the PHP code it takes to make a call. You'll notice that we're also passing a standard URL to the API. This URL should contain instructions for Twilio do do once the call is connected. It can be a static XML file or something dynamic that returns XML. In our case, let's call the file "play2caller.xml". All play2caller does is plays a .WAV file to the caller then hangs up.

Here's the code (note that the periods were inserted so the code would show up in Blogger. Remove them if you plan to use this code):

<.?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8' ?>
<.Response>
<.Play>http://someserver.com/greeting.wav<./Play>
<./Response>


That's it! It's that easy to make a call using Twilio. Now using other Twilio "verbs" as they are called, you can enhance the system and allow your program do do things like let the called enter touch tones, dial other number, do branch logic, record spoken information, and a whole bunch of other things.

Once you get a handle on Twilio (which you can do in a weekend) you can build incredibly powerful applications that interact with the phone. Twilio is probably one of the most innovative new API's and technologies I've seen in the last two years and I'm really excited to see where they take their product.

So go ahead, sign up for an account. Build something cool and unleash it on the world. Let your application dreams run wild.