OpenMRS hackathon: a community profile

I spent the latter portion of this past week at the 2010 OpenMRS hackathon in Indianapolis, Indiana at UIPUI university getting an inside look at an effective Open Source ICT4D project. As a result of the gathering, I hope to contribute back some improvements to the software over the coming weeks. For the moment, I want to share details of their compelling project:

OpenMRS Hackathon at Regenstrief Institute

OpenMRS is a powerful electronic medical records (EMR) package used at hundreds of clinics around the world in about 46 developing countries.

The Open Source project was founded in 2006. For US readers, the highest profile user is likely Partners in Health. They apply it very actively as their ICT4D/mHealth solution in most of the countries they serve including Haiti, Peru, Mexico and Rwanda.  They also employ several full time Open Source contributors to the project.

Vibrant Open Source projects often draw from an eclectic variety of contributors. Given this, it is somehow not surprising that this kind of scheme can blossom with good software so effectively. Talent attracts talent. It seemed that each of the participant categories at the hackathon was represented by rockstar programmers that also had their MD’s.

The two-day event kicked off with the weekly developers’ screencast conference call. We had contributors from at least 3 continents represented on the line and another 20 developers in the room. Some 6 major contributors worked at the main Regenstrief Institute office above our venue. Another 3 worked for Partners in Health. There was an assortment of graduate students from nearby universities. On the phone, participants from the just-completed Google Summer of Code joined in (OpenMRS is one of the program’s top largest and longest-running projects).

The conference call itself opened slowly but soon we had contributors demoing slick integrations of SMS + website patient profile up on the large screen. The developer was able load a patient’s full record, including details of their participation in various programs and send them a relevant SMS reminder from the same page seamlessly. Responses from the patient were saved back to the patients record as an instant message log.

I should have more to say about the coding event over the coming days, for now I simply leave these impressions.

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