Ebola: A Call to Action for OpenMRS

Friends,

EbolaThe OpenMRS community has long recognized that in many of the countries where our software is used, the public health system is weak. Over the past several months, the world has been faced with the consequences of this weakness in West Africa, as nations struggle to contain the deadly Ebola virus. Without more effective surveillance and more effective treatment facilities on the ground, these countries struggle to contain disease outbreaks quickly, and all too often we see epidemics as a result.

Please join us in building software that will help.

Our immediate goal is to establish a proof-of-concept or “straw man” implementation of OpenMRS that can be used in health care facilities in places affected by this epidemic. We already have a request to support a health facility in Sierra Leone and enquiries from Liberia. If you’ve been around OpenMRS for very long, you’ve heard our story of the floss. Let’s “throw the floss across the canyon” of this epidemic and then work together over the coming months to strengthen the bridge that will help health care providers do their work more efficiently and effectively. We know the combined wisdom of the OpenMRS community can make a valuable contribution to tackling this new challenge.

There’s lots of work to be done. We must bring together the knowledge in our community to define what our “floss” solution will look like, as well as start to think about our longer-term goals. We must then design those immediate and longer-term software solutions, and finally work together to build them. It can’t happen without your help, and I hope that you’ll contribute your expertise, skills, and passion.

We have established a communication area on OpenMRS Talk for this project at http://ebola.openmrs.org/ and encourage you to sign in today with your OpenMRS ID. Join the team, share your ideas, and stay up-to-date on this project as it evolves. You can also email the team at ebola@openmrs.org.

The immediate request is for a hospital-type EMR to support the triage and acute treatment of Ebola patients, leveraging our recent progress in hospitals in Haiti, India, the Philippines and other countries. Examples of areas we are currently starting work on include:

  • Vocabulary extensions on Ebola for the CIEL dictionary,
  • Access to OpenMRS through tablets used in infected zones by staff in protective gear,
  • Improvements in order entry for medications and IV fluids,
  • Expanded lab test ordering and reporting including specialized tests for Ebola,
  • Handling frequent observations for intensive care type of management of sicker Ebola patients, including patient summaries and visualization of longitudinal data,
  • Creation and testing on standard forms and reports and many other common implementation requirements, and
  • Extensions linking to mHealth tools for contact tracing, case finding and triage or for tracking lab samples from the community and sending results back to the clinician.

Since its start in rural East Africa 10 years ago, OpenMRS has become the world’s largest open source project to improve Health IT. Our mission is to improve healthcare delivery in resource-constrained environments by coordinating a global community that creates a robust, scalable, user-driven, open source medical record system platform. Over the years we’ve been able to create a platform of tools and resources used around the world, and we’ve built up an unsurpassed network of the world’s experts to solve Health IT challenges. An effective, longitudinal medical record is an essential requirement for Ebola treatment and these records can’t be carried in and out of infected areas. A networked electronic medical record is essential—and we clearly offer a cost-effective, well-tested system that has been deployed at scale in a sustainable way.

The world is looking to organizations like ours in this time of great need, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace. Experts anticipate this epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better. There’s a critical need to treat up to hundreds of thousands of patients as quickly as possible. If we act fast, we still have an opportunity to help save countless lives. OpenMRS grew out of the infectious disease crisis of HIV in Africa and succeeded despite many challenges. We learned much—and are more prepared now than we were then—but the urgency is very great.

Our thanks go to the entire team that’s already begun doing this work, and to those of you who will be joining the effort. Please know that you have a strong community of dedicated people behind you to help.

Paul Biondich
OpenMRS Project Leader

Hamish Fraser
OpenMRS Evaluation & Impact Lead

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