Nothing gives me more pleasure than to write a year-end blog from the OpenMRS worldwide summit in Singapore in Dec 2015. My story of involvement in OpenMRS came from my final years as a medical student in Eldoret, Kenya. I was already tinkering around technology and wondered how the same could be used to manage HIV patients. As a matter of fate, Ben Wolfe was visiting Eldoret and conducting some OpenMRS classes every Friday evening that I participated in. I have to admit being the only girl in tough java made me persist and learn OpenMRS. This was in the year 2007. A few of my close friends, notably Dr. Rose Kosgei who was already traveling for specialized studies in the US was telling her networks about me. She is the first person that explained to me about health informatics as a specialty.

OpenMRS is an open source medical records system in existence for a decade in use in over 42 countries.

Atlas

Atlas of OpenMRS installations worldwide from atlas.openmrs.org

My passion has been in the global health space, and truly my mission has been to figure out how to improve health care by enabling doctors with technology. Thus when an opportunity came from the Justin Jinich clinic in Kibera (the largest slum in Africa) to help them get started using OpenMRS for their ambulatory clinic, I was ecstatic! I met up with Peter Okoth, and instead of focusing on OpenMRS implementation; I chose to make this high school graduate conversant with the OpenMRS system for sustainability. This investment paid off for this implementation for an electronic medical records system, but I am most proud of the progress of Peter who took advantage of this opportunity and has managed the system for the last 7 years, has moved out of the slum and will be graduating with a degree in computer science. My biggest joy was to see his local village computer school that he founded to give others a similar opportunity, and this remains a big source of inspiration for me.

Blessing during opening of the Techy World Institute of Technology founded by Peter in Western Kenya

The OpenMRS worldwide summit was the first of the kind as a move from the previous implementers meetings last of which was held in Mozambique 2015. The summit is run in unconference style, whereby participants decide on the agenda of the meeting. I took the opportunity to talk to the members of the OpenMRS community, in a project where I am trying to document the stories of OpenMRS. OpenMRS was my way into global health, and I have remained centered and reminded of my purpose with each of the project or activity I have undertaken to try and solve global health problems in limited resource countries. Taking a historian approach, I recorded hours of stories of the people that make OpenMRS and will continue to do this over the next year.

These are their faces and short stories….

Missionary James

James (http://www.missionaryjames.com/) now working as a consultant for OpenMRS while he works full time as a missionary in Haiti remains a good example of the persistence of the OpenMRS community. We suffer from poor documentation like any open source project, but members like James do not believe in forking code to set up new projects away from the master, and thus are always looking for ways to give back to the community for the greater good. Finding ways to support such members is a new focus of the community, and hopefully we will see more activities to support the OpenMRS ecosystem that makes us sustainable.

Thanks James for showing me the camera tricks too …..

Photo of Judy and James walking around downtown Singapore

Here is a picture of the skyline using the Art mode James taught me to use Night skyline of Singapore

Ellen Ball and Mike Seaton (PIHers)

Always a pleasure to chat with Ellen and my 60 minutes with Ellen were amazing. I got to learn about her journey into OpenMRS, her work before OpenMRS on PACS in the early stages, and her view of the evolution of the community. I got to learn about how OpenMRS has advanced PIH (Partners in Health) work and vice versa, representing the symbiotic nature of the organizations that work with OpenMRS. As we walked through Little India village with Mike, we forged a plan to tackle the nightmare of reporting, and design it such that small implementers can use reporting in OpenMRS meaningfully to inform their clinical care. My hope is we can build more PIHs of the world within the OpenMRS ecosystem.

Ellen and Jordan sneak into my picture

Joaquin

Joaquin who serves on the OpenMRS board is passionate about governance and would like to see an ecosystem of service providers helping accelerate the mission of OpenMRS that ‘information is care’. Over one of the best meals I had in Singapore, he shared his story from being a PHD student, to running his own startup using OpenMRS in Peru, to his current work to support analytics for health care in developing countries. Thinking of myself and efforts of building Softbrew(TM) as a social company in the global health phenomena was inspiring and insightful and offered me a clarity that will shape my future involvement with OpenMRS.

Joaquin and Judy at the OpenMRS 2015 summit

Barry Levine

Even though my interview with Barry started off with ‘ I don’t know how much I have to say / I am not sure I have all answers to your questions’, I had a lovely time hearing Barry’s stories. Probably the most resonant comment was how he referred to people that have been to Kenya. He said “If you hear of anyone who has been to Kenya and see them talk about it , they have a dreamy look”, something that I have related to many many times.

” If you hear of anyone who has been to Kenya and see them talk about it , they have a dreamy look”

His motivation to join OpenMRS and come out of retirement was because ‘Good computing saves lives’. This was a reminder of how wonderful the work OpenMRS does is, and of the critical needs that demand our urgent attention. Barry reads newspapers and scouts the Internet for people that are just doing similar value work. And among these he tells them of OpenMRS, and this has taken him to East Africa and Asia to implement and support multiple OpenMRS implementations. He is using a similar model to support the Kenyan youth near Nairobi to teach them engineering skills by working on solar panels. His energy and OpenMRS activism will continue to remain an inspiration to me. I look forward to be more involved in the projects his graduate students are working on to supplement the work we are doing for radiology on OpenMRS.

Dr Adam Chee

One of the newest community members of OpenMRS talked to me about organized informatics. He is the chair for regional HL7, HIMSS Asia and AMIA regional group. He also runs a consulting company that provides pro bono informatics services to developing countries. His experience on social entrepreneurship was very informative.

Photo of Adam and Downey , the OpenMRS community manager at the summit. Credit to Missionary James

Alvin Marcelo

The summit helped me meet up one of the most phenomenon ambassadors of OpenMRS from Philippines. Though a short encounter, It was great to hear of the work on OpenMRS in the Philippines and I look forward to chatting with Alvin over the next weeks for my 60 minutes of the OpenMRS story.

Judy and Alvin at the OpenMRS worldwide summit

Fabian (Project Buendia)

Missed the news on the Google Ebola tablet used to manage patients during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa? Yep that’s powered by OpenMRS. My wow moment was to see the small computing devices that are running OpenMRS on a battery. To see such innovation around hardware and delivery of the systems was mind blowing. Hopefully I will be borrowing their ideas (allowed in open source) for the radiology information system we are building on top of OpenMRS.

The Edison chip (size of 2 coins) used to run the Ebola OpenMRS servers for project Buendia

Bill Lober

Dr. Lober, a physician by training is a key driver behind the national EMR implementations using OpenMRS in places like Mozambique and Vietnam. His work as an academician has developed national standards for EMR evaluation and he remains a critical asset for OpenMRS. He wanted to be a part of the community from the beginning, even when he didn’t believe in the software we were building. He explained to me the model of TRUST that has seen the OpenMRS community succeed over the last decade.

Jonathan Teich

Dr. Teich is the clinical architect of OpenMRS, and is definitely a man to watch out for. His work on clinical decision support is in early phases. Thanks to him, OpenMRS implementers now have allergy tracking. Having resisted to join in the global health bandwagon, he finally gave in 2 years ago, and wonders why didn’t he do this earlier. Thanks for your time Teich.

Jan Flowers

When I grow up, I want to be Jan. :)

Inspiring stories of the national implementations and her work with Mozambique. Between Jan, Suranga, Jordan and I, we started to think of what it means to have diversity in OpenMRS. We had some sad statistics in terms of community and leadership diversity but I am sure we will be pushing for some change in this over the coming months.

I was honored when Jan asked me to work with her on the implementations and distributions of OpenMRS. To know that I am not the only one with an itch to get out there when I am not impacting the world was a pleasure Jan.

Mayank and the Harshas’

Apart from harassing Mayank to carry my laptop bag , I couldn’t help but draw in his enthusiasm. He reminded me of a younger Judy, not afraid to explore the world and enjoying technology. I have a feeling that our paths will cross very soon, and that the future is only brighter for this gentleman. Thanks for walking us through Little India and stealing the reserved table for us.

Keep up the enthusiasm!

From left to right : Harsha, Willa, Maurya, Wyclif, Harsha and Mayank (OpenMRS summit participants) walking towards the Christmas show in Singapore

Hamish Fraser

Having never met up with one of the founding fathers, it was an honor to hear the story on the birth of OpenMRS. I will have to write that story for a longer blog post in the New Year 2016.

Conclusion

The stories of OpenMRS are just but beginning. I will have more chats over the next months with various community members. Jordan has offered to edit the audio and make a podcast in the summer of 2016 on the stories I will have recorded by then. I wish to thank OpenMRS for providing the travel grant that assisted my participation this year. Thank you for investing in me.

I hope some of these stories inspire you to make a little positive change in the world we live in.

Here are the some of the most inspiring words I heard this year from Tim Cook’s commencement speech at George Washington University in 20151

“The sidelines are not where you want to live your life. The world needs you in the arena. There are problems that need to be solved. Injustices that need to be ended. People that are still being persecuted, diseases still in need of cure. No matter what you do next, the world needs your energy. Your passion. Your impatience with progress. Don’t shrink from risk. And tune out those critics and cynics. History rarely yields to one person, but think, and never forget, what happens when it does. That can be you. That should be you. That must be you.”

Happy & blessed new year!

References

  1. http://time.com/3882479/tim-cook-graduation-speech-gwu/