OpenMRS Implementers' Guide

Is OpenMRS for You?

A clinician compares her paper records with OpenMRS in Rwanda.

This chapter will help you to decide whether OpenMRS is the right clinical application for your organisation.

Why have an electronic medical record (EMR) system? First, you need to clearly identify your reasons for adopting a computerized medical record system. Without a clear need or anticipated benefit, sustained use will be difficult. Many adopters use OpenMRS to gather information about direct patient care for analysis and outcome improvement. It can also reduce the effort of reporting to 3rd parties. Supporting clinicians during the process of direct patient care is also possible--but this requires further customization.

Where OpenMRS fits best

OpenMRS is a patient-centric application, meaning data is captured about interactions between a health care provider and a patient. Your main information needs should also focus on direct patient care provided. If you primarily intend to capture data about something other than the patient (for example, about lab specimens), you should consider other alternatives.

OpenMRS is designed to manage patient data longitudinally, linking multiple interactions over time into a single patient chart. Having this complete patient history available empowers clinicians to make more informed decisions about care, while also enabling a deeper analysis of patient health in order to draw more meaningful conclusions on improving outcomes. If you only care about individual patient visits, and not about linking those together into a longitudinal chart, then OpenMRS may not be the right tool for you.

Technical capacity required to manage OpenMRS

OpenMRS requires a fairly sophisticated team of implementers to install and run. (See the chapter "Transitioning to OpenMRS".) At minimum, you will need ongoing resources with knowledge and skills in three areas:

  1. Medical information management, to ensure data is captured properly and in a way that will support meaningful use in the future.
  2. System administration, for installation and maintenance of the OpenMRS server, local area network, backups, and local ICT infrastructure.
  3. In addition, for further customization to meet specific clinic needs, some software development skills may occasionally be required.

Of these three areas of capacity, it is most important that the system administrator be at the clinic or a contractor in close proximity to the clinic. The other areas can more easily be made up of external team members that support the clinic during strategic cycles of system improvement.

Other ways to find out if OpenMRS is for you

OpenMRS is powerful software and has the potential to help your organisation reach its goals, but it may not be the right choice for every organisation. Here are some ways that you can find out whether OpenMRS is right for your organisation:

  • Read this book!
  • Play with a demonstration site.
  • Download and explore the OpenMRS Standalone.
  • Talk to others who use OpenMRS.
  • Talk to an OpenMRS consultant.

Demonstration sites

OpenMRS hosts a demo site at which runs a very basic version of the latest released version. However, it has not been configured in a way to support a typical deployment. Specifically, it lacks medical information management content--it lacks good forms for data entry and does not have any reports configured for interpreting and extracting information.

OpenMRS Standalone

If you have technical skills or are feeling adventurous, you can download and set up a local version of OpenMRS, that is a version that is stored on your local computer rather than on a server on the internet. You'll still access it through a browser, but it will only be visible on your computer. The advantage of a test installation is that you can configure OpenMRS in the way that you want to use it, and experiment with your data. See the chapter "Installation and Initial Setup".

Talking to others who use OpenMRS

If you know of another organisation that uses OpenMRS, talk to them about their experience. The more similar they are to your organisation, the more useful their experiences will be. In any case, you will gain valuable insight from their knowledge.

If you don't know anyone that is using OpenMRS, consider joining the weekly OpenMRS Implementers Forum. The session regularly includes presentations and demonstrations from a range of international users. For more information about the meeting, see the OpenMRS Wiki:

Talking to OpenMRS consultants

There is no official list of OpenMRS-endorsed companies that provide professional services for the platform. However, a quick email to the OpenMRS Implementers or Developers mailing lists requesting professional support should result in a prompt reply and recommendation. See:

Amani Clinic evaluates OpenMRS

At the Amani Clinic, the newly-hired medical informatics manager was already familiar with OpenMRS. However, because he was new to the clinic and to the field of maternal health, he started research other organizations that were using OpenMRS for maternal and child health care clinics. After joining one of the weekly Implementers Forum meetings, he learned of a group in Nigeria doing exactly that, and had several follow-up conversations with them. They agreed to collaborate on projects as much as possible once Amani had OpenMRS up and running.