Development and Deployment of the OpenMRS-Ebola Electronic Health Record System for an Ebola Treatment Center in Sierra Leone

Shefali Oza, Darius Jazayeri, Jonathan M Teich, Ellen Ball, Patricia Alexandra Nankubuge, Job Rwebembera, Kevin Wing, Alieu Amara Sesay, Andrew S Kanter, Glauber D Ramos, David Walton, Rachael Cummings, Francesco Checchi, Hamish S Fraser | Journal of Medical Internet Research | August 21, 2017


Shefali OzaBackground: Stringent infection control requirements at Ebola treatment centers (ETCs), which are specialized facilities for isolating and treating Ebola patients, create substantial challenges for recording and reviewing patient information. During the 2014-2016 West African Ebola epidemic, paper-based data collection systems at ETCs compromised the quality, quantity, and confidentiality of patient data. Electronic health record (EHR) systems have the potential to address such problems, with benefits for patient care, surveillance, and research. However, no suitable software was available for deployment when large-scale ETCs opened as the epidemic escalated in 2014.

Objective: We present our work on rapidly developing and deploying OpenMRS-Ebola, an EHR system for the Kerry Town ETC in Sierra Leone. We describe our experience, lessons learned, and recommendations for future health emergencies.

Methods: We used the OpenMRS platform and Agile software development approaches to build OpenMRS-Ebola. Key features of our work included daily communications between the development team and ground-based operations team, iterative processes, and phased development and implementation. We made design decisions based on the restrictions of the ETC environment and regular user feedback. To evaluate the system, we conducted predeployment user questionnaires and compared the EHR records with duplicate paper records.

Results: We successfully built OpenMRS-Ebola, a modular stand-alone EHR system with a tablet-based application for infectious patient wards and a desktop-based application for noninfectious areas. OpenMRS-Ebola supports patient tracking (registration, bed allocation, and discharge); recording of vital signs and symptoms; medication and intravenous fluid ordering and monitoring; laboratory results; clinician notes; and data export. It displays relevant patient information to clinicians in infectious and noninfectious zones. We implemented phase 1 (patient tracking; drug ordering and monitoring) after 2.5 months of full-time development. OpenMRS-Ebola was used for 112 patient registrations, 569 prescription orders, and 971 medication administration recordings. We were unable to fully implement phases 2 and 3 as the ETC closed because of a decrease in new Ebola cases. The phase 1 evaluation suggested that OpenMRS-Ebola worked well in the context of the rollout, and the user feedback was positive.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, OpenMRS-Ebola is the most comprehensive adaptable clinical EHR built for a low-resource setting health emergency. It is designed to address the main challenges of data collection in highly infectious environments that require robust infection prevention and control measures and it is interoperable with other electronic health systems. Although we built and deployed OpenMRS-Ebola more rapidly than typical software, our work highlights the challenges of having to develop an appropriate system during an emergency rather than being able to rapidly adapt an existing one. Lessons learned from this and previous emergencies should be used to ensure that a set of well-designed, easy-to-use, pretested health software is ready for quick deployment in future.

J Med Internet Res 2017;19(8):e294