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Exchanging Ideas at the 2013 OpenMRS Implementers Meet

OpenMRS is a free and open source medical record system platform that is used to store patient data in clinics for better tracking and treatment in resource constrained environments. It is used in over 20 countries around the globe. Thoughtworks has been contributing to OpenMRS since 2006 and has also deployed health systems built on top of OpenMRS.

The 2013 OpenMRS Implementers Meet was set in Eldoret, Kenya. Eldoret is the birthplace of OpenMRS. It was the city where the need for OpenMRS was first recognized, and the first implementation was rolled out under AMPATH in 2006. Therefore, there were quite a few attendees who had seen OpenMRS from V0.1 onwards, and had historical context to some of the features within OpenMRS.

Thoughtworks was one of the conference sponsors. Seven Thoughtworkers from India, Africa and US offices attended, including Dr David Walton who leads the Health practice for the Social Impact Program at Thoughtworks.


The Implementers Meet was preceded by a two-day Hackathon. At the Hackathon, I participated in a competition to build an "app" for the OpenMRS Reference Application, using the brand new UI Framework released by OpenMRS. The team that won the competition built a Monitoring Application which generated graphs using patient data.

I loved the hackathon, since it gave me a chance to understand OpenMRS Code base a lot better and play with the new UI framework (which seems inspired from Rails Convention-over-Configuration MVC philosophy). Also, it allowed a one-on-one interaction with the OpenMRS Core Team members, and see them all in action; which was awesome!


The OpenMRS Implementers meet started on Oct. 8  and was conducted in an Unconference format. Most of us were new to the Unconference format, but by the end of the 4 days, we realized how great the idea was. An Unconference doesn't have any agenda. The agenda is set as the conference progresses. So on Day-1, after the Welcome speech, a Keynote on OpenMRS Reference Application, and a recap of the awesome stuff done during the year, everyone was invited to suggest sessions that they would like to facilitate in the conference. Out of a 120+ people who came for the conference, almost 50-60 of them suggested sessions, and put them up on the board (see pictures below). And thus, the agenda was born:

Thoughtworks and our Open Source product for rural hospitals, Bahmni, got a lot of attention in the conference. The session on Bhamni by Vivek Singh, explaining how OpenMRS, OpenERP and OpenELIS integration has been done by Thoughtworks, was a big hit. It was attended by almost everyone. People asked a ton of questions and Vivek tackled each and every question with remarkable clarity. People went back clearly impressed with the level of details and the thought that had gone behind the decisions made by the Bahmni team.

The whole conference was sprinkled with sessions containing demos, work done by various implementers and developers across different hospitals, clinics and so on, discussions around migration strategies, and challenges being faced by individuals in OpenMRS, lightning talks, and future visioning. Since almost each and every person attending the conference has something to do with OpenMRS, the discussions were focussed and useful.

On Day-2, I took a session on OpenMRS Code Quality using SONAR, based on the work done by Ozge Catalbas (from TW Chicago office) and Christopher J. Briesemeister. It was really well received, and they asked me to do a Lightning talk on it the same evening, for all the attendees.

On Day-3 of the conference, we were split into 4 groups and each group was driven to a hospital or a clinic to see OpenMRS in action. I got to see a clinic where HIV patient data was being managed in KenyaEMR (built on top of OpenMRS). The nursing attendant and head of the clinic patiently gave us a very detailed demo on KenyaEMR, and the facilities.

This was my first time seeing OpenMRS in the real world. They had been using OpenMRS for just the last 6 months, and said, "It’s really easy to use. If one has the passion to learn, then you don't need an IT education to operate KenyaEMR. It’s really simple, and we would prefer it anytime over the paper based means of collection and reporting patient data.” That was really reassuring to hear!

The fact that we were staying in the same venue as the conference (Noble Conference Centre), helped in networking with the OpenMRS Core team and many implementers during the evenings. The Hacking room was open throughout the night -- and it was very heartening to see the OpenMRS Core Team folks always hacking away and discussing features in the Hacking Room until late at night.

Overall, the 2013 OpenMRS Implementers Meet was wonderful. It offered lots of networking opportunities, lots to understand about the ‘Technology For Health And Development’ space, and a very good platform for organizations to showcase their abilities and experience in this area.

To quote my fellow Thoughtworker Vivek, ‘The conference is a gold mine for someone who works on OpenMRS, or in the Health and IT field. The OpenMRS Implementers meet is very highly recommended!"

If you would like to know more about OpenMRS and contribute to this noble software platform, read more about it here: http://openmrs.org/.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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