Saptarshi Purkayastha is from Mumbai, India and currently lives in Norway for work. He is a Research Fellow at the Department of Computer & Information Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, where he is enrolled in the PhD program and works as a researcher in the domain of Health Information Systems for developing countries. His research group is the HISP Project at the University of Oslo, so Saptarshi spends most of his time there. Recently, OpenMRS community manager Michael Downey spoke to Saptarshi about his experiences in the OpenMRS project.
MD: Congratulations on being our first contributor of the month. You’ve been around the community for a while. Can you tell us when and how you first heard about OpenMRS?
SP: Thanks to everyone for the honor! I first heard about OpenMRS in 2007, when I was asked by a clinician friend who wanted to use an Information System to manage his nursing home. I was looking through different ways to contribute and visited the OpenMRS IRC channel. Someone suggested starting as a student for the Google Summer of Code (GSoC) program. I applied to the Registration module project and was accepted into that program. While doing this, I implemented OpenMRS at my friend’s nursing home. We now have over 100,000 patient records that allows analysis of patient problems, allowing him to run his nursing home in an efficient, profitable way.
SP: The GSoC experience was extremely rewarding because it made learning about OpenMRS much simpler with support from my mentor. It also made participating in the community much easier because I had a focused project to work on. Over the next few years, I mentored 3 students as primary mentor and 3 students as secondary mentors in the OpenMRS GSoC program. It’s helped me share the experiences that I’ve had as a student with newer students, and helped them to be part of the OpenMRS community. I also got introduced to medical informatics and somehow, my PhD focus in health informatics is a result of the time I’ve spent in the OpenMRS community. The GSoC program taught me to be part of open source and has made me a better contributor to other open source projects.
MD: How do your contributions to OpenMRS relate to other work that you do?
SP: Some of my current contributions are related to OpenMRS. My research about the OpenMRS sprints has helped me gain new insights about agile methodology and these findings are going to be published as a research paper. This will be a concrete contribution to my PhD. Some of the modules like Registration, Custom Branding, Patient Image are useful to implementations that have adopted OpenMRS for their practices. In the past, I’ve done consulting work with ISV’s that build hospital systems because of my contributions to OpenMRS. I’ve held management positions in the past at HISP India and Raxa, who are using OpenMRS in wonderful ways for their implementations. I’ve also worked as a software developer on a module that was outsourced by eHealth Systems in Chile.
MD: What are you doing with OpenMRS these days? What projects or initiatives do you find particularly interesting or exciting?
SP: I am involved with research on integration between patient-records and aggregate systems in different countries. This is the focus of my PhD project, and although OpenMRS is not the only piece of the puzzle, it is an important software system in these contexts. I’m also involved in developing how OpenMRS can be used for scalable, real-time medical emergency systems. I’m very interested in working within OpenMRS on large-scale disease surveillance systems, decision support and drug recommendation systems, as well as patient identification systems that use biometrics. I’d also like to be involved in implementations that use mobile phones and mobile devices for collaborative treatment of patients using OpenMRS.
SP: Being able to contribute to OpenMRS is a meaningful endeavor because these systems can save lives. Spending on medical systems is a costly affair and your contributions to OpenMRS (and other similar open-source projects) will help humanitarian medical practitioners to do their job in a better way. New contributors should look at the needs of implementations and link themselves up with implementations that need tools to support their practices. Communicating with implementers is extremely important because it will be useful and motivate you to write better software. GSoC is a great way to get introduced to the community if you are a student. If you are not a student, then participating in sprints regularly will help in your career and give the satisfaction of making the world a better place.
Congratulations to Saptarshi Purkayastha, our January 2013 Contributor of the Month!